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The Daily Tar Heel

A UNC Police officer has been accused of lying under oath in a Silent Sam arrest case

September 8 protest police
Police from across North Carolina quickly escort demonstrators from McCorkle Place after their scheduled demonstration on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2019. Among them is Sergeant Svetlana Bostelman. Silent Sam activist Julia Pulawksi filed a motion that Bostelman gave false testimony that led to Pulawksi's conviction.

A UNC Police officer has been accused of lying in a testimony that led to pending criminal convictions and a jail sentence against a student, according to a motion citing evidence that “flatly and directly contradicts” claims the officer made under oath. 

The legal defense of UNC senior Julia Pulawski issued a motion to dismiss charges to the Orange County Superior Court earlier this month. The claims made in the motion match a long-standing criticism from many student activists of targeted arrests in Silent Sam-related conflicts. 

Conflicting testimonies

Pulawski was found guilty in January on two counts of assault on a campus police officer, which is among the most serious class of misdemeanors in the state. Her arrest was one of many that occurred last September during a chaotic scuffle between police and demonstrators at a Silent Sam protest.

Sgt. Svetlana Bostelman played a role in Pulawski’s detainment but did not actually make the arrest. Her testimony was the basis used to convict Pulawski.

Now, the over-40-page motion to dismiss – which The Daily Tar Heel obtained from Pulawski’s defense – compares testimony transcripts from that hearing with eyewitness testimonies, videos and other evidence. It argues that Bostelman’s testimony was “substantial and flagrantly false" and calls for sanctions against the UNC Police employee, who was hired in 2012.

UNC Department of Public Safety spokesperson Randy Young declined to comment on "an ongoing court matter."

At an Orange County District Court hearing on Jan. 18, Bostelman’s testimony conflicted with Pulawski’s about the circumstances of the arrest. 

After multiple pro-Confederate groups had left campus on Sept. 8, a line of remaining counter-protesters closed in on Graham Memorial’s entrance, where police had just taken an arrested individual. As the counter-protesters expressed frustrations at what they claimed to be a baseless arrest, officers from departments statewide rushed out of the building and made numerous arrests.

Pulawski was among those arrested.

‘You deserve a short time’

In her testimony, Bostelman said her body camera died halfway through the protest, according to a transcript and recording of the hearing. UNC Police’s General Orders require all officers to have their body cameras activated when performing detentions and arrests. 

Bostelman told the court she was standing at the Graham Memorial entrance when she caught an unobstructed view of Pulawski around 20 to 25 feet away. Bostelman said she saw Pulawski on top of another officer, Sgt. Burnette, punching and kicking Burnette in the back as he arrested another protester.

She said she grabbed Pulawski from behind as the student continued hitting Burnette’s back. Bostelman picked Pulawski up, she testified, and Pulawski kicked or elbowed her up to five times while being held up. Bostelman said both of them fell to the ground, concluding in Pulawski’s arrest.

The alleged striking of both Burnette and Bostelman were the source of Pulawski’s convictions.

In her own testimony, Pulawski firmly refuted suggestions that she struck anyone during the protest. She claimed that when the cluster of arrests began, she was standing among the crowd and saw a fellow protester get thrown to the ground.

She said she ran toward the protester as they were being arrested and suddenly felt an arm constrict around her neck. 

“I just thought, ‘Wow, someone is grabbing me around the neck and I can’t breathe,’ and then I was dragged backward,” Pulawski testified.

Pulawski could not identify the officer who grabbed her. She said she did not remember ever being lifted in the air during the incident, and she said she felt scared.

Burnette himself also testified at the hearing. He said in his testimony that he did not recall being punched or kicked during the day.

Judge Lunsford Long – who closed the hearing off from the public – told Pulawski he believed her conduct was reprehensible, according to a recording of the hearing provided to the DTH. 

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He sentenced her to 24 hours in county jail and six months probation with a fine of $250. 

“I don’t think you deserve a long prison sentence,” Judge Long is heard saying in the recording. “I do think you deserve a short time in Birmingham Jail like Dr. King did.”

‘A double standard’

Scott Holmes, Pulawski’s attorney, told the DTH that Pulawski’s hearing was supposed to occur two weeks later than it did. However, Holmes was informed that the hearing had been moved to a new date just days in advance, when numerous other people facing Silent Sam-related charges were also scheduled for hearings.

“It felt unfair to have to try her case without being able to investigate it properly,” Holmes said.

Pulawski’s convictions are currently under appeal, with her next court date set for May 13, and Holmes believes the recently-filed motion to dismiss proves that Bostelman testified untruthfully “in a pretty egregious, clear way.”

The motion utilizes various videos from the day, including clips from The Daily Tar Heel and the News and Observer, to scrutinize crucial claims the officer made. One clip shows Bostelman surrounded by a swarm of people moments before she encountered Pulawski, contradicting the claim that she had an unobstructed view of the student.

Another exhibit in the motion shows Pulawski was not anywhere near Burnette at the time of the encounter. A screenshot is included showing Burnette arresting another protester as multiple people stand between him and Pulawski, who is being grabbed from behind by Bostelman at the same time.

Bostelman’s claim that she lifted Pulawski, received multiple blows and tumbled to the ground with the student also came into question. Another screenshot is included showing a bald, white male officer grabbing Pulawski in a chokehold, not Bostelman. Pulawski’s feet are on the ground in the picture, and she appears to be tumbling to the ground with the male officer.

In that same photo, Bostelman is standing a few feet away from Pulawski looking in the other direction.

Holmes has defended 23 clients facing charges over recent activism against Silent Sam. Pulawski is one of only two who have been found guilty with judgement, Holmes said in a text to the DTH.  

The motion to dismiss Pulawski’s charges also includes a request that either Bostelman be sanctioned for false testimony under oath or that the case be referred to the District Attorney’s office for a perjury investigation. Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall had not responded to a request for comment by publication.

“There are people who are prosecuted for perjury and obstruction of justice for misleading or giving false information to officials,” Holmes said. “So, it would be a double standard to allow an officer to give such false testimony with impunity.”