Harvard Police Department held four Black students, following a false claim that could have cost the students’ lives

Four Black Harvard University students were ordered to leave their dormitory room at gunpoint by Harvard University Police who later learned the four students were victims of swatting, a hostile practice of falsely accusing another or others of serious crimes.

The students, all seniors, Jarah K. Cotten, Jazmin N. Dunlap, Dave G. Madzivanyika, and Alexandra C. Rene were awakened by pounding on the door to their room in Leverett House. 

The police pointed rifles pointed at the students and ordered them to keep their hands in plain sight.

Madzivanyika opened the door with rifles staring him in the face. He said he felt like he was ‘done for,’ he later told a reporter from Boston Globe.

A 911 caller, who identified himself as a man, told the HUPD in April, that he had taken a woman hostage in the suite and had tried to kill her. He gave a room number that indicated he was familiar with Leverett House, said he was armed, and threatened to shoot officers who entered. 

The incident is an example of the criminal trend of “swatting,” or lying and making a false report to an emergency service or law enforcement agency about criminal activity at a particular location or address.

The police entered the student’s room at 4:15 a.m. wearing tactical gear and armed with assault weapons.

The police searched the room and found nothing. The students later returned to their room.

The incident occurred before Claudine Gay, the first Black woman president, was scheduled to be sworn in on July 1 as Harvard’s 30th president.

Victor Clay, who is also Black, and was named head of HUPD on April 27, issued a statement that addressed concerns for the students but did not include offering an apology, according to The Harvard Crimson, the University’s newspaper. 

Clay issued a statement 48 hours after the event. 

Earlier, he told The Crimson that Harvard ‘dropped the ball’ with its response: “We took too long to talk to students. I still don’t understand why there was this delay.”