University suspends student leader for sending death threats to editor


Campus court links e-mail to government officer who resigned after newspaper printed reports of cheating





\nNORTH CAROLINA -- "Everything that comes out of your\nwork is a lie," began an e-mail message sent to the editor\nof the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's student newspaper.

"It will be a pleasure to watch you bleed to death!!"\nthe message continued, "Prepare to die!!!"

The message, which threatened University Times editor\nJillian McCartney with explicit physical and sexual torture, was\ndetermined by an administrative board at the university to have\nbeen sent to McCartney by the school's former student body president.\n

The board suspended Nicholas Mirisis in September for at least\ntwo years. Mirisis, who is also the former president of the University\nof North Carolina System's Association of Student Governments,\nannounced he would step down from that position and his position\nas student body president after the University Times reported\nthat he had purchased a research paper off the Internet and turned\nit in for an honors-level class assignment as his own work. (He\nreceived an F for the course.)

Shortly after the publication of that story, McCartney discovered\nthat her purse, which contained her driver's license, student\nID, credit cards and keys, had been taken from her office.

Five days later, McCartney checked her e-mail and found the\nthreatening message. It had been sent from an anonymous Hotmail\naccount within hours of the theft of her purse.

In addition to the threats, the person who sent the e-mail\nclaimed to have stolen McCartney's purse. The keys and the information\ncontained in the stolen purse would provide "all the information\nI need to track you down," the message said. Attached to\nthe message were two photographic images, one of an erect penis\nand one of an exposed anal orifice.

McCartney, who said she was scared and disturbed by the e-mail,\ncontacted campus police immediately. She said she suspected that\nMirisis had sent the message to her because of his "past\nbehavior" and the University Times story about his\nacademic dishonesty.

According to a story in the University Times, school officials\nwere able to trace the origin of the e-mail to a computer in one\nof the school's computer labs. They compared the Internet sites\naccessed on that terminal immediately before and after the e-mail\nwas sent with usage logs on Mirisis' computer in the student body\npresident's office.

Some of the pornographic sites accessed on the computer lab\nterminal matched those also found on Mirisis' office computer.\n

After 10 hours of testimony and deliberation in a closed hearing,\na three-person panel found Mirisis "responsible" for\ncommunicating threats and violating campus computer-use regulations.

Mirisis, who is not allowed to return to the campus without\na police escort, will only be readmitted to the university if\nhe can prove that he has sought counseling and made progress in\nanger management, violent behavior and sexual aggression.

But just days after he was suspended for threatening McCartney,\nMirisis presided over the election where University of North Carolina\nat Chapel Hill student Jeff Nieman was elected president of the\nASG. Because the meeting was held at the Chapel Hill campus, Mirisis\nwas not barred from attending.

McCartney, however, questioned the decision to allow Mirisis\nto preside over the election.

"It was ludicrous," McCartney said, adding that Nieman\nhad testified on Mirisis' behalf at the administrative hearing,\nand therefore, knew of the allegations that had been brought against\nhim.

Nieman said Mirisis' attendance at the meeting aided the ASG\nbecause the election of a new president is always chaired by the\nsitting president. He also said Mirisis was still considered a\nstudent in good standing at the time of the meeting because, according\nto the university's disciplinary procedures, a student is considered\nto be in good standing for five days after being found responsible\nby an administrative board, during which time a student may decide\nwhether to appeal the board's decision.

"He had every right to sit at that meeting as president\nbased on our rules," Nieman said. "And it was good that\nhe did in terms of saving us a lot of headaches."

ASG rules stipulate that the association president must be\nin good standing with the university.

Reporters from the University Times also criticized the\nassociation's decision to close the meeting for a short period.\nNieman said the meeting was closed so that ASG members could speak\nto Mirisis in private. But in a letter sent to the association's\nboard of directors, Times reporter Ray Burton said closing\nthe meeting would be in violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings\nLaw.

The law states that a public body may only go into a closed\nsession to consider the qualifications of an employee. The law\nforbids a public body from closing a meeting to discuss the qualifications\nof a member of that body.

Burton argued that because the ASG is composed solely of elected\nand appointed members and has no employees who are not members\nof the board of directors or general assembly, the board cannot\nclaim this exception as a reason to close its meeting.

Nieman, however, said the ASG is private corporation, not a\npublic body, and therefore, is under no obligation to keep its\nmeetings open.

"Technically, UNCASG is a private, not-for-profit, incorporated\ncorporation," Nieman said. "We're a private corporation,\nand we can close our meetings any time we want."

But Amanda Martin, a North Carolina attorney who works with\nFirst Amendment issues, said that although the ASG is a private\norganization, it is considered a public body under North Carolina's\nopen meetings law.

According to McCartney, Nieman also praised Mirisis' work as\nASG president at the meeting despite Mirisis' admission of cheating\nand his suspension from the university.

"I [praised] him because he did the most honorable thing\nhe could have done-admitting his mistake," Nieman said. "Had\nhe not made this mistake, I know that, in terms of what he was\ngoing to be able to do, he would have been the best president\nASG would have ever had."

Nieman declined to discuss Mirisis' suspension, calling the\nevents surrounding his punishment "sketchy innuendo and accusation."\n

"[Mirisis] was a shooting star," Nieman said, adding\nthat he believes Mirisis "should be applauded" for the\nway he handled himself when his academic dishonesty became public.\n

But McCartney said she does not believe Mirisis handled the\nsituation well.

"It's hard for me to understand why people would applaud\nanyone who would commit academic fraud, especially someone who\nshould be held to a higher standard as the leader not only of\nour campus, but of the entire UNC system," McCartney said.\n"This wasn't in any way handled appropriately."

Mirisis could not be reached for comment. According to McCartney,\nhe is appealing the administrative board's decision.

McCartney said she has not decided whether she will pursue\ncriminal charges against Mirisis. Her purse was found in a trash\ncan on campus, but its contents were either missing or badly damaged.


reports, Winter 1999-2000