Violence at an off-campus party last fall prompted investigations by both town police and the Office of Student Conduct, leading to unequal suspensions for two Elon University students and raising concerns among victims and witnesses about the sanctions the university levied.
At 615 E. College Ave., a group of about 50 students gathered on Oct. 20, 2017, for an off-campus party that quickly took a turn for the worse around 10 p.m. The party had just gotten underway, and one student was already behaving erratically. Spencer Schar had too much to drink and began acting violently, according to three eyewitnesses present, two Town of Elon Police officials who conducted a month-long investigation and a police report.
When one student, Sallie Collamore, encouraged Schar to leave the party and return home, he physically assaulted her. Schar allegedly grabbed her by the throat, pushed her against the side of the house, and punched her in the face, according to a town police report. After Collamore told a couple of people what had happened to her, two students tried to calm down Schar and take him outside.
In a matter of minutes, Schar began lashing out at Kit McHutchison and Nate Joslin, according to three witnesses. As efforts to calm him down proved unsuccessful, Joslin called a friend to pick up Schar and drive him back home. While the three of them waited by the front lawn, Schar grew increasingly frustrated. Refusing to leave, he punched McHuthison in the face and allegedly kicked her in the side. He then punched Joslin in the face. Police verify this was the account they were told as well.
“As I got back up, the car happened to be pulling right into the side of the road where the party was, and Sam Shaw was in the front [passenger] seat,” Joslin said. “He had seen everything that had happened in the headlights. I got up and then Sam ended up tackling him and then punched him, thus neutralizing the situation.”
With bruises to Schar’s face from Shaw’s punch, Schar grew quiet, made his way into the back of the car, and was safely taken back to his apartment with the help of one of his friends. Nick Marano, the driver of the car, and Joslin confirmed the details.
The following afternoon, Collamore and McHutchison reported the incident to the Town of Elon Police Department, prompting a month-long investigation. As the police looked into the case, the university simultaneously launched its own investigation and held student conduct hearings.
Joslin said he received personal emails on Oct. 23 from Felicia Cenca, Elon’s coordinator for violence response, and on Oct. 24 from Jana Lynn Patterson, dean of student health and wellness, inquiring about him being assaulted by another student. He also said he received an email on Oct. 25 from Randall Williams, director of student conduct, and agreed to meet with him at 4:15 p.m. on Oct. 26 as part of the university’s investigation.
Williams and two other administrators declined to offer specifics about the case, claiming federal privacy laws barred them from speaking further.
The town police and the university’s Office of Student Conduct did not coordinate details with one another, according to Cliff Parker, the town’s police chief, and Whitney Gregory, assistant dean of students.
Parker said after working with the district attorney’s office, his department determined there was evidence Schar assaulted three people. He said the two women “wanted to report it, but they didn’t want to follow through with charges and do all that.” Meanwhile, Parker said, the department determined Shaw punched Schar in self-defense and that there was no prosecutorial wrongdoing on his side.
The police report, which should have been made publicly available after the town concluded its investigation in mid-November, was erroneously kept private in the police department’s internal reporting portal. Parker said there was no effort to suppress information, insisting a simple mistake had been made by not clicking an “unlock” button.
While the police report itself provides few details of the incident, Parker confirmed the identities of those involved and elaborated on the events that unfolded. Lt. Mark Sweat, who oversaw the investigation, also provided a detailed account.
“[Schar] went from suspect to possible victim, but it was a result of his actions that caused the second male [Shaw] to intervene,” Parker said. “It didn’t appear there was evidence to make a charge. We presented it to the DA’s office, and then they concurred.”
In a normal circumstance, this is where the story would end: A fight broke out at an off-campus party, nobody was charged with a crime, and the case was considered closed. But this incident is far from normal, as the university’s handling of the matter raises serious questions over transparency and partiality.
“I don’t want you to be sued. It’d be bad for you.”-Elon Spokesman Dan Anderson
By the end of the semester, after a two-month process, Elon’s Office of Student Conduct decided to punish both Schar and Shaw. While Schar was suspended for the 2018 spring semester for assaulting three students, Shaw was suspended for the 2018 spring and fall semesters for punching Schar, according to Shaw and another individual familiar with the case. The university declined to confirm the students’ suspension lengths but did state Shaw and Schar was not enrolled at Elon as of the spring. Schar has recently been added back into the university’s student directory, suggesting he will return to Elon in the fall.
Elon spokesman Dan Anderson declined to discuss details of the case and argued that the private nature of student conduct hearings prevents nonparticipants from knowing what happened. He also suggested legal implications for reporting on the story.
“I don’t want you to be sued,” he said. “It’d be bad for you. … You don’t have access to all the facts and can’t.”
Schar family’s influence
Spencer Schar is the son of Elon’s biggest donors, Dwight and Martha Schar. The Schars have contributed $13 million to the university to provide lead funding for the recently expanded School of Communications facilities and a new convocation center scheduled to open this fall under their family’s name. In 2014, they pledged $12 million, the largest single gift in Elon University history. It is not clear how much of that has already been paid, as Elon refused to share details about payment schedules for the charitable contributions it receives.
Dwight Schar is the founder and chairman of the board of NVR Inc., the fifth-largest homebuilding company in the nation. He has served on the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts for the Kennedy Center, was national finance chair for the Republican National Committee, and is co-owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. In 2010, Forbes ranked him 937th on its annual list of the world’s billionaires.
In the aftermath of the incident, Dwight Schar kept in contact with Elon University and the Town of Elon Police, Parker said.
Though no lawsuits have been filed from any of the students involved, Schar, Shaw, Collamore, and McHutchison have all sought legal representation since the October incident.
Thomas Collamore, Sallie’s father, stepped down from his advisory board members in the School of Communications this spring. The school’s dean, Paul Parsons, confirmed Collamore’s resignation.
Through a company spokesman, Dwight Schar declined to comment. His son, Spencer, was not made available for comment when reached through the spokesman. He also didn’t respond to a request for comment sent to his university email account.
Students upset, confused by the university’s decision
Making sense of Elon University’s decision is a challenge. Two administrators with direct knowledge and involvement in the case offered little insight into the decision-making process or general functions of the Office of Student Conduct, claiming federal privacy laws barred them from speaking further. According to the student handbook, the department does not operate as a court of law, and thus, does not require the legal standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
A possible explanation for the different sentences is past conduct records. It is possible Schar and Shaw had a prior history of academic integrity or social policy violations, though it is unlikely. Shaw denies having any prior history. An information request submitted to Elon University Police yielded no results of past infractions from Shaw or Schar. The university’s police chief, Dennis Franks, said in an email that no such police reports exist.
It is possible that other factors played a role in the university’s decision. Past academic infractions and substance abuse assessments are among a wide range of deliberating factors. It is also possible that additional sanctions beyond a suspension were issued, including an alcohol education class, cease of contact with others involved in the case, a mental health assessment, and fines.
According to Elon’s student handbook, the hearing process “typically includes a preliminary investigation, a conference with students responding to potential violations of the code of conduct and a hearing or investigation team decision regarding responsibility.” The university may also take into account “all available and credible information relevant to the case.”
But the unequal suspension lengths for Schar and Shaw raise concerns among those who witnessed the incident.
“At the very least, I would expect them to be equal,” said sophomore Nick Marano, who drove Schar home after pulling up to the house with Shaw. “I don’t see anything that he did that would warrant it to be double the amount. It wouldn’t have happened in the first place if Spencer wasn’t acting erratically and hurting people, so it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me.”
Joslin, who got punched in the face after trying to calm Schar down, expressed similar frustrations. He said Shaw came to his defense, the defense of the two girls, and did nothing wrong. Joslin said he first learned of Shaw’s suspension in mid-December after Shaw broke the news to him. He grew more frustrated during Winter Break after learning Schar received less severe punishment.
“It was obviously upsetting that he was suspended for two semesters,” Joslin said. “Somewhere in that same timeframe over Winter Break, I found out from Kit that Spencer was suspended for one semester. That was very upsetting and feels unfair.”
Shaw’s attorney, Laura Beth Waller, said Elon rejected her client’s suspension appeal in January. As of mid-April, Elon was communicating with her on a possible settlement deal, Waller and Shaw said, though a compromise appeared unlikely. Shaw was eager to tell his side of the story and submit paperwork for the university to release his Student Conduct hearing records to this reporter.
According to federal law, Shaw has the right to make public his own disciplinary records but said that, upon the advice of his lawyer, he would wait to see how the legal process plays out.
When reached by phone for an initial comment, he sounded surprised, saying, “I didn’t think that this would ever, ever come. … It’s cool that someone actually knows about this.”
Spencer Schar Police Report: