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ETSU administrator: Number of marijuana offenses on campus not excessive

Rex Barber • Apr 29, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Drug activity on the campus of East Tennessee State University is comparable to other state schools, an administrator said Monday.

ETSU Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Sherlin said four incidents of marijuana-related activity have occurred at the campus housing complex known as Buccaneer Ridge Apartments this year.

That includes this weekend’s arrest of four students charged with various marijuana offenses. Two of those students face charges related to the sale of marijuana.

Elias Rasmussen, 22, 387 Hill Road, Harrogate, was charged with possession of schedule VI drugs for resale, possession of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a dwelling where drugs are used or sold and carrying or possessing a weapon on school property.

Rishi Malhotra, 19, of Germantown, and Brandon Buchanan, 25, 1185 W. Mountain View Road, Apt. 1201, were charged with simple possession of schedule VI drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Student Wesley Miracle, 22, 288 Arthur Road, Arthur, Tenn., was charged with possession of schedule VI drugs for resale and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Theses charges stem from an original investigation into a fire alarm Friday night. The responding officer smelled marijuana in an apartment unit and that led to two separate investigations that resulted in the four students being charged.

Sherlin said ETSU is comparable to other schools in Tennessee in terms of overall violations and drug violations.

“Yes, we’ve had marijuana activity, as every other school in the state has,” he said Monday.

There were three marijuana incidents last year and two the year before that at Buc Ridge, Sherlin said.

There has been marijuana activity at other dormitories at ETSU too.

“And any case that we have a drug distribution, we’re going to deal with that very seriously,” Sherlin said. “I mean, anybody found responsible for distribution is definitely subject to dismissal in terms of the review.”

The four men are still students and subject to disciplinary review.

“And that process has already begun, which includes reviewing all the information,” Sherlin said. “Talking to the individuals involved. They are not in housing and will not be back to university housing... based on the information we have.

“And these are serious offenses. For drug distribution you could be looking at dismissal or permanent withdrawal from the institution.”

ETSU Police Chief Jack Cotrel said the numbers of marijuana-related incidents on campus is not indicative of a large drug presence on campus.

Cotrel did say there are more resident assistants at Buc Ridge and a community relations officer there, too. Besides that, patrols have been increased.

All that is an effort to help reduce crime.

Part of the investigation this weekend included a search for explosives at Malhotra’s on-campus apartment. Police found fertilizer, propane canisters and a pressure cooker that caused concern. No explosives were found but his apartment building was evacuated for around 6 hours.

Cotrel said no email and text alerts were sent informing the broader campus community of the evacuation because the situation was contained to a specific location.

“We did not have any reason to believe that the threat that we thought might materialize could go outside that particular location, so that’s why the decision was made to contain it to that particular facility and that alerting the entire community was not required or necessary,” Cotrel said. “As a matter of fact, it could have been disruptive.”

Cotrel was pleased the situation ended positively.

“I’m very proud of the professionalism displayed by my officers when they encountered this incident and the level of cooperation we received from our neighboring agencies in East Tennessee,” he said.

Besides the ETSU police force, Johnson City police, the Unicoi County Sheriff's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the state fire marshal and the FBI assisted in the investigation.

Cotrel said any situation on campus would be treated the same and that the recent Boston Marathon bombings did not influence the level of response given to this weekend’s investigation.

“I think this is how we would react to any situation,” he said. “And our goal and mission first and foremost is the safety of our students. That comes first beyond everything else.”

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