Riverside City College student safety called into question after medical emergency

By Samantha Bartholomew
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The road barricades are due to become permanently bolted to the road by the end of October with keys to be held by campus police officers. Mia Magana | Viewpoints

Clarification: A previous version of this story said no police officers were in sight when Imari Rede moved safety barriers on Terracina Avenue. Officers were also not present when Rede moved the barriers on Mine Okubo Avenue. 

A medical emergency that occurred at Riverside City College on Oct. 9 has led to the questioning of campus security measures.

Viewpoints student Nick Peralta experienced chest pains, a headache and issues breathing before collapsing in the Viewpoints newsroom.

Matthew Schoenmann, Viewpoints’ journalism specialist and part time instructor, called 911, all the while worrying that emergency services, local and campus, would not know where to find the newsroom, an isolated building near the Martin Luther King Building.

“All I could think about was the amount of times I’ve called dispatch and had to explain where our building was because they’ve literally never known when I called in the past,” Schoenmann said.

Viewpoints editor-in-chief Dominique Redfearn said she ran to Student Health Services to ask for help, but was turned away because they had already called 911.

Another concern was the road barriers that have blocked off the entrances to Mine Okubo Avenue and Terracina Avenue ever since the start of the new semester in August. In fact, until the emergency took place, Schoenmann had believed that they were bolted to the ground.

Schoenmann called the campus facilities to remove the road barriers for emergency vehicles to get to Peralta who was still convulsing on the ground.

According to Schoenmann, the receptionist who answered was unbothered by the call and, after the incident, speculated whether or not she had even sent someone to remove the barriers.

However, Viewpoints student Imari Rede rushed and moved the barriers, which weighed approximately 195 pounds each.

While paramedics tended to Peralta in the newsroom, Schoenmann and his students were given mixed messages from Sean Disalvio, college safety and emergency planning coordinator, and Officer Matthew Goddard about which number, campus dispatch or 911, should’ve been called first.

“How many people who haven’t been told directly to do so would know to go against all their instincts to call 911 and call campus dispatch?” Schoenmann said in an email to Kristi Woods, a dean of instruction, after the incident.

Currently, extension 8171 is the direct line to the California State University San Bernardino dispatch center and campus officers. Depending upon the nature of the call, 8171 will generate a direct dispatch to campus police units.

According to Michael Simmons, director of Risk Management, Safety and Police, the police department is available to assist with barricade removal and campus officers will have keys to the bollard locks once the permanent barricades are in place. Medical aid situations are not uncommon to the police and campus officers are trained to help first responders from other agencies can enter and depart from the college’s facilities.

However, as far back as 2011, dispatchers used to be located on the campus and knew the college layout just as well as its faculty and students.

“When I would call prior to 2011, RCC dispatchers instantly recognized who I was just from hearing my voice, they knew where I was when I called, and they would send the police to my location without any delay.  Response time was probably less than two or three minutes prior to 2011,” Lovelace said. “We need to go back to having our own dispatchers to speed up the response time.”

Woods agreed with Schoenmann and Viewpoints adviser Allan Lovelace, saying in an email that “it seems we have lost something important in the outsourcing of our emergency response.”

Disalvio would not comment on the matter, as the investigation into the incident is ongoing. However, Disalvio said in an email to Viewpoints that this situation will hopefully be resolved in collaboration with the district.

Goddard also chose not to comment.

Simmons said it was too soon to indicate whether the investigation would lead to a change in campus safety protocols.

“It would be premature to speculate about the potential outcome of the review and assessment process, or whether the response warrants a change to current emergency protocols, pending the completion of the evaluation by the District Safety and Security Committee,” Simmons said.

However, Rhonda Taube, president of the district’s Faculty Association, views the issue differently.

“There will be a reevaluation of the current safety protocols, especially regarding dispatch of emergency calls at the colleges,” Taube said in an email.

Taube also said that there would be further discussion on the subject at the District Safety and Security Committee meeting Oct. 19.

“I am not aware of other faculty members bringing up the protocols recently, but I do know faculty are very concerned about student safety throughout the district,” Taube said. “I have been involved with the DCCS for several years and faculty are wholeheartedly committed to ensuring we have the safest campuses possible.”

According to Simmons, the main objectives of the DSSC’s investigation are to review the facts of the incident, determine whether the response was appropriate to the emergency situation, whether the response can be improved and what steps should be taken to do so. The committee will also appoint committee members to create plans to implement change.

Regardless, it seems that the campus dispatch number isn’t as well known as it should be throughout campus, if that is indeed the one students and staff are to call in case of emergency.

The last time that students received an email from the college that mentioned the 8171 extension number was March 2017 from then-chancellor Michael Burke.

In fact, out of 100 students surveyed only seven knew the phone number for the police department’s dispatch.

After initially denying that Student Health Services had turned Redfearn away, director Renee Martin Thornton and FeRita Carter, vice president of Student Services, admitted that one of their staff members had spoken to Redfearn and that the situation had not been handled correctly.

Lovelace spoke about the incident at the Academic Senate on Oct. 15, suggesting that RCC’s police need to meet with Riverside city police to share a current map of the college so that city police will know where our various buildings are located, the removal of the road barriers throughout the campus or put in place an effective and consistent process for the city police dispatchers to notify campus police when paramedics are on the way so that they would know to move the road barriers.

As of Oct. 16, the college’s police department are claiming that Viewpoints students improperly moved the road barricades and that their officers arrived before the EMTs and would have moved the barricades had Rede not already done so.

However, according Schoenmann, Rede and Redfearn, this was not the case. Rede said that no police officers were in sight when she moved the barriers on both Terracina and Mine Okubo Avenues. This was confirmed by Schoenmann and Redfearn.

Lovelace emailed a response to Simmons with this statement and, as of Oct. 17, has not received a reply.

“I thought it was very unfortunate altogether what happened to me,” Peralta said after the incident. “What happened scared my fellow students. I’m made to feel even worse knowing that my friends and instructor were even more terrified not knowing what would happen to me if emergency personnel couldn’t get to me.

Peralta said that he hopes that what happened to him triggers a change in the current safety protocol, to prevent anyone else from having this experience.

“Clearly something has to change,” Peralta said. “What if what happened to me was worse than it was and my friends and fellow students didn’t take the steps that they did to make sure paramedics could get to me? Should I feel lucky? It’s scary to think about honestly.”