FAU police ends investigation of Saunders accident, victim’s father and faculty demand apologies

Dylan Bouscher

FAU President Mary Jane Saunders drives away from a March 22 protest on the Jupiter campus moments before her side mirror brushes senior Women's Studies major Britni Hiatt. Photo courtesy of Britni Hiatt.
FAU President Mary Jane Saunders drives away from a March 22 protest on the Jupiter campus moments before her side mirror brushes senior Women’s Studies major Britni Hiatt. Photo courtesy of Britni Hiatt.

New reports from FAU police officers who witnessed the accident involving FAU President Mary Jane Saunders, and senior women’s studies major Britni Hiatt, reveal Saunders did flee the scene, but do not charge her with a hit-and-run.

With the second of three investigations now over, the State Attorney’s Office investigation remains open.

Saunders told the Sun-Sentinel she was “instructed” to not stop after she clipped Hiatt. However, none of the reports from FAU PD Lieutenants Tracy Merritt, Lester Lockett, and Terrence Turner, or Officers Edward Delancy, Derrick Paul, and Robert Vickens confirm this.

In the final FAU Police report of the accident (available here), a new statement from officer Robert Vickens claims Saunders “did not appear to realize that her vehicle had made contact with Hiatt, continued driving and departed campus.”

Another previously unreleased statement, from Officer Terrence Turner, was similar to Vickens’. Turner wrote that Saunders kept driving, “apparently never realizing her vehicle’s right side mirror had made contact with Britni Hiatt’s right side.”

Another new statement, from Officer Edward Delancy, also noted that it was “not clear that the President would have known she hit the protester with the side mirror.”

After reviewing witness statements written by students Leslie Williams and Zoe Lewycky, the investigation concluded that Hiatt “violated” Florida State Statute 316.072 (3) or “obedience to police and fire department officials,” and 316.130(8) for “leaving a curb or place of safety.”

Although these are the final charges, Delancy did not believe there was enough evidence “to pursue criminal charges against the driver or the complainant.”

Without confirmation from the officers, the State Attorney’s Office investigation could find Saunders in violation of Florida State Statute 316.027(1)(a), which states: “The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash…must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as close thereto as possible, and must remain at the scene of the crash.”

The law also states “Any person who willfully violates this paragraph commits a felony of the third degree,” which may be punishable with a $5,000 fine, or up to five years in prison.

While Saunders demanded an apology from Hiatt and other protesters for their behavior on March 22, Hiatt’s parents sent an email and demanded an apology from Saunders for striking their daughter with her car. (To read the full email Hiatt’s father sent, see the bottom of the story.)

Earlier today, faculty from the Boca, Davie, and Jupiter campuses joined Hiatt’s parents in their request for Saunders to apologize publicly.

Then, an anonymous group known as “the Silent Majority at FAU” wrote this letter, claiming Saunders and her administration may have violated university regulations. This was a response to a letter sent by Dean of Students Corey King, to the student protesters who were near Saunders’ car before the accident.

The UP contacted Media Relations for comment from Saunders, but as of publication time, she could not be reached.

“The most egregious inaccuracy that FAU police have reported is that this was not a hit-and-run,” Hiatt told the UP. “By hitting me with her vehicle and then driving away, that is, by the book, a hit-and-run.”

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On Friday, March 22nd, my daughter, Britni Hiatt, was struck by a vehicle driven by President Saunders during a student demonstration on the FAU Jupiter campus about the GEO Group stadium-naming rights deal. She did not stop to see if she was OK but instead sped down the wrong way on a one-way street.

On Sunday, March 24th, Chairman Barbar released a statement demanding that the students apologize to President Saunders for the events of March 22nd.

As Britni’s father and a concerned parent, I called President Saunders’ office on Monday, March 25th, requesting to speak with her.

On Wednesday, March 27, Chief of FAU Police Charles Lowe called me to discuss my request to speak with President Saunders. I reiterated that I wished to speak with President Saunders and declined to speak further with Chief Lowe, and he said he would relay the message to President Saunders.

On Thursday, March 28th, Dr. Charles Brown, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, called me, also offering to speak about the hit-and-run. I repeated again that, although Dr. Brown may have been present that day, he was not driving the vehicle and therefore I declined to speak with him regarding the incident. He, too, said he would relay the message.

On April 2, the day after the FAU/GEO Group deal was called off, I called President Saunders’ office, again wishing to speak with her regarding the incident, and I left a message. Later that day she gave an on-camera interview to Dylan Bouscher from the University Press, where she agreed with Chairman Barbar that students from the March 22nd demonstration, including Britni, owed her an apology and that they were doing “things that were not, actually, legal.”

On  April 3rd, Britni and the six students who gave sworn witness statements about her being struck by President Saunders’ vehicle received an email from Dr. Corey King, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, saying that they were being investigated for possible student code of conduct violations. On Tuesday, April 9th, they received letters stating that they, in fact, had not violated the student code of conduct and that no further disciplinary proceedings would be initiated.

It has now been nearly three weeks since I first attempted contacting President Saunders about the March 22 incident, and I have not spoken with her once. Since this incident, what I have witnessed is nothing short of a corporate coverup led by President Saunders.

The facts are clear. President Saunders has exercised extremely poor judgement throughout this entire ordeal. She should be ashamed of her actions as this, in my opinion, is conduct less than becoming of an executive and university head.

Britni and her fellow student demonstrators, at no time, presented a threat to anyone’s security, much less that of President Saunders. They carried harmless paper poster-boards and the only single act of aggression was the striking of my daughter with a vehicle driven by President Saunders.

As a consequence of all this, my daughter Britni was hurt, physically and emotionally, and President Saunders has not been accountable or even accessible for her actions.

Britni and her fellow student demonstrators should be applauded for their will to stand for what they believe in. This very action is what has shaped this nation into what it is today.

I am extremely disappointed in how President Saunders, Chairman Barbar and the FAU Police have handled this entire ordeal.

It is not President Saunders who is owed an apology but rather my daughter Britni, her fellow student demonstrators and their parents, as well as the entire FAU community for President Saunders’ reckless behavior, her twisting of truths and the audacity to blame others for her poor judgment.

Respectfully,

John S. Hiatt