Criminal complaint charges Pitt student with ethnic intimidation, making terroristic threats

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Criminal complaint charges Pitt student with ethnic intimidation, making terroristic threats

By Jon Moss and Janine Faust

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A white Pitt student who sent Snapchat messages to a black Pittsburgh resident is now facing three criminal counts, two of which are related to that specific incident.

Ethan Kozak, a rising junior political science major, was charged on July 13 with one count each of ethnic intimidation, terroristic threats and harassment. He set non-monetary bail on July 19, and his preliminary hearing is scheduled for October 30 at 1:30 p.m.

Kozak admitted in late June to sending violent and derogatory messages to D.J. Matthews, a 20-year-old black Pittsburgh resident. Matthews posted screenshots of the messages on Twitter on June 26, which led to the counts of ethnic intimidation and terroristic threats Kozak is charged with.

In the screenshots, messages from Kozak use discriminatory language such as the “n-word” repeatedly and include threats to shoot Matthews “legally… just like George Zimmerman.” Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17-year-old black Floridian, in February 2012.

According to a criminal complaint filed by Mt. Lebanon police officer Ty Kegarise, the accusation of harassment is related to a series of threatening messages Kozak sent to Colin Welling, a former friend of Kozak’s and a rising junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“Welling stated that Kozak has not been acting normal and has been constantly arguing with him and several of his close friends,” Kegarise said in the complaint. “Welling stated that Kozak has referenced having a H&K rifle and even sent him a photograph of the rifle with a loaded magazine.”

Matthews said in a phone interview that he wanted to thank the Mt. Lebanon police for filing the complaint and “keeping him in the loop” on proceedings. Welling did not respond to a request for comment.

Terrence Ging, Kozak’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment. According to a receptionist at his law firm, he is out of the office for the week.

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said the University has been cooperating with law enforcement, but Pitt is limited in what it can disclose due to limits imposed by the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. The act prohibits schools, in most cases, from disclosing information from a student’s educational record without consent from the student.

The violent and racist messages he sent to Matthews have circulated widely on social media, and has led to outrage on campus — Matthews’ tweet garnered 580 retweets and more than 1,500 likes, and another tweet with the messages had more than 25,000 retweets and 33,000 likes.

A group of 27 student leaders sent a letter to top Pitt administrators on July 5 calling for Kozak’s expulsion. The letter also asserted the Student Code of Conduct does not properly address students who “incite violence” against other students on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or certain other classifications, as none of the conduct’s 40 violations specifically mention them. To remedy this, the student letter called for the University to develop a “strict policy” for these types of situations.

Provost Ann Cudd and Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner said in a response issued the following day, July 6, they were thankful for students writing to them and appreciate the calls to “continue creating a respectful, peaceful, diverse and safe learning environment.”

Pitt and the authors of the student letter, Pitt seniors Jordan Fields, Edenis Augustin and Jenea Lyles, announced on July 12 that the two parties would meet in the fall to discuss ways to strengthen the Student Code of Conduct, while staying consistent with the First Amendment.

A joint July 12 statement issued by the authors thanked students for their support, and encouraged them to speak out against any possible injustices they experience.

“We hope that this incident will encourage you all to use your voice and advocate for your peers so they know that they never have to fight injustice and inequality alone,” the statement said.

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