The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Sunday, March 3, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Did police body cam footage factor into dismissing a student's Silent Sam-related charges?

silent sam resurrection protest police
Demonstrators gather at the site of Silent Sam in response to Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees' proposal to place the monument in a new $5.3 million historic center on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018.

Two days before he was scheduled for a fifth court appearance last month, history graduate student Mark Porlides learned all charges stemming from his arrest during a Silent Sam demonstration last year had been dismissed. 

UNC Police had charged Porlides with assault on a campus officer, resisting an officer and larceny. A trespass order also barred him from part of campus for over three months, until the charges were dropped.

Last month, the legal defense of UNC senior Julia Pulawski facing separate Silent Sam-related charges issued a motion with evidence claiming a UNC Police officer falsified testimony that was used to convict her with jail time. The undergraduate’s decision to discuss her situation publicly spurred Porlides to discuss his own, he said. 

Porlides provided police body camera footage of his arrest to The Daily Tar Heel. His attorney obtained the footage through a subpoena of UNC Police a month and a half after his Dec. 3 arrest. 

“I already knew police were lying on the stand,” Porlides said. “I had been to the trials. So I was like, ‘Wow, we’re talking about it? Yes, I would like to.’”

‘To cause harm’

UNC Department of Public Safety spokesperson Randy Young declined to comment on the specifics of Porlides’ arrest beyond providing police reports. 

The Dec. 3 arrest occurred around 8:30 p.m. at the barricade surrounding Silent Sam’s now-removed pedestal as hundreds protested a proposed “University History and Education Center” containing the Confederate monument on campus. 

Porlides stood at the side of the barricade closest to Graham Memorial Hall – where police units from across the state were based and where dozens of people were arrested during multiple campus protests. 

It was a less-crowded area than the side of the barricade opposite Porlides. Some demonstrators on that side had begun shaking the metal barriers, with police inside the barricades pushing back to hold them in place.

In the initial officer narrative of Porlides’ arrest, UNC Police Lt. Megan Howard – who assisted in processing Porlides – claimed Porlides “attempted to climb over” the barricade. Howard wrote that while trying to do this, Porlides assaulted UNC Police officer Ryan Kay and attempted to swing at North Carolina State University officer Mary Coates, both of whom “were inside the barricades.”

In a supplemental report three hours later, Kay – who made the arrest of Porlides – claimed he had seen the student shoving and pushing on the metal barricade. Upon telling him to stop, Kay wrote, Porlides made “another larger thrust using all his body weight to push on the barricade.”

The report goes on to say Porlides tried running when he saw the officers approach and “began to fling his backpack around and started flinging his elbows around ... to cause harm and to break away from are (sic) control.” Kay also described what Porlides said was the basis of his larceny charge, writing that Porlides “could also be clearly seen on my body worn camera” trying to pull on the camera.

“I gave Mr. Porlides a loud verbal command to stop and let go,” Kay wrote. “While he tried to grab and take my (camera) he tried to strike me again with his elbow.”

Two days later, UNC Police officer Kiefer Christie added a supplemental report stating the officers interacted with Porlides as they were proceeding to the barrier from Graham Memorial. Christie claimed he felt Kay get pushed back and turned to see Porlides grabbing and pulling on Kays’ camera while simultaneously pushing Coates.

‘In case you tear gas us’

Porlides received a trespass notice the night of his arrest barring him from McCorkle Place indefinitely. The notice included an incident summary, stating he “attempted to access statue by going over the barricade, swung at officers.”

The body camera video – which shows officer Kay’s perspective of the arrest – begins with a group of officers walking out of Graham Memorial Hall and approaching the protest. 

Kay rounds about a tree and breaks into a near-sprint around 30 feet from the barricades. At the time Kay begins running in the video, Porlides cannot be seen through the scattered crowd of people. As Kay gets closer, the people surrounding Porlides moved out of the way. 

Wearing a backpack slung over his right shoulder, Porlides can be seen in the video for around two seconds before Kay slams into him. Porlides stands near the barricade, facing the opposite direction of the officers. The barricade in front of him does not appear to be affected in any way. 

Porlides turns his head and notices two officers on Kay’s left who are directly approaching him.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Porlides then moves the opposite way of the officers for just a moment before colliding with Kay. He does not appear to notice or have time to react before Kay has grabbed him in the video. 

The backpack on Porlides’ shoulder slides down his arm upon impact. He pulls back from Kay while hunched over facing the ground, but two other officers in riot gear grab Porlides from different sides within three seconds of Kay grabbing him. The body camera goes black for under one second as Porlides is being pulled in a separate direction from Kay.

“Let go of my camera, bro,” Kay yells at Porlides when the video is clear again, with Porlides holding his hands in the air and repeatedly telling the officers that he is not doing anything.

The video then shows the officers take Porlides into Graham Memorial Hall, where he is processed while face-first against a wall. While searching him, Kay asks Porlides what is in his bookbag. When Porlides responds that he will find apple cider vinegar, the officer asks why.

“To protect us in case you tear gas us,” Porlides responds.

‘Relive my trauma’

Porlides told the DTH that leading up to his arrest, he had seen a community member nearby take a shove at one of the metal barriers and go unnoticed. He decided to take a shove at one himself, he said, before stepping back and “milling about.” The incident still made him question himself. 

“I very much felt like that, like, ‘Oh, they got me for doing something,’” Porlides said. “Then my attorney was just like, ‘No, you didn’t do anything. You can’t get arrested for touching a barricade.’”

He believes the video exemplifies “serious increases in the violence being used, and even being initiated, by police” toward anti-Silent Sam demonstrators since the statue’s toppling last August. 

Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz did not respond to an email with questions about Silent Sam-related policing. Media Relations manager Kate Luck pointed to Guskiewicz's public statement last month, where he said he would be convening a campus safety commission of students, faculty and staff “to take a broader look at all aspects of community safety, including building relationships with campus police.”

While the trespass order is no longer in place, Porlides said he still feels strongly about Graham Memorial Hall being used as a police staging ground.

“I’ve taught in there, and I may be required to teach in there again, in which I will then relive my trauma in that space in order to teach,” Porlides said.