Posted on March 15, 2006

Truth Still Matters

Nick Cheolas, Michigan Review (U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor), March 15, 2006

Back in October, this newspaper editorialized on the now-infamous “Asian urination” incident, and the aftermath that swept across this campus like a firestorm. In fact, news of this incident made its way across the country, as students at UC Berkley protested this “hate crime” at U of M. Here in Ann Arbor, student groups mobilized, others called for the prosecution and expulsion of the students, and President Coleman herself issued a statement to the entire student body. Amidst this upheaval, the Michigan Review pleaded for sanity, arguing that the facts should dictate the proper course of action.

As is often the case on this campus, the facts were pushed to the curb by an effort to combat the “cold” campus environment. When it was revealed that the suspects involved disputed the accusations, campus groups were quick to note that the truth didn’t matter, and that incidents of ethnic intimidation occurred daily — we would just have to take their word for it.

The firestorm itself would die down, but the sentiments bred during the “crisis” would not. To this day, the “Asian urination” incident is still cited as evidence of the “harsh” campus climate faced by minority students.

The Michigan Daily seems to have failed to provide even a rudimentary analysis of the reports and facts in the case. The last Daily article on the incident was published on September 26, 2005. The investigation itself, however, was not completed until January 2006. This is not to say that the Daily is responsible for misinforming the campus public — the near-annual boycotts remind its editors of the perils of publishing content even remotely offensive to minorities.


Reports obtained by the Michigan Review — including witness statements, interviews, investigation notes, and police reports — show that general details surrounding the incident can be established. Shortly after 10pm on Thursday, September 15th, two students were walking below the balcony of an apartment on the 600 block of South Forest. Those two students, a male and a female, both of Asian descent, felt a liquid substance hit them as they walked below the balcony of two students who had been playing beer pong. An exchange of profanities ensued, and the two Asian students proceeded on their way to a local restaurant. Approximately 45 minutes later, the male victim returned with four of his friends. The exchange of profanities resumed, including a face-to-face confrontation on the sidewalk in front of the apartment complex. At some point, the suspects would dump a bucket of liquid off of their balcony. Shortly thereafter, the female victim returned to the scene, and then called 911. When the Ann Arbor police arrived, the 21-year-old suspect was unable to coax his 20-year-old friend out of their apartment, and was subsequently arrested and booked for ethnic intimidation.


While reviewing the documents, it is apparent that the credibility of the victims, and some of their supporting witnesses, is rather questionable. For example, according to officers on the scene, both the male and female victim stated that they had observed the suspect, Stephen Willimason, urinating on them from his balcony. However, on September 20th, both suspects admit that they indeed did not observe the suspect urinating. As Ann Arbor Police Detective Amy Ellinger writes, “I asked [male victim] if he saw the suspect urinating or saw his exposed penis. [Male victim] said, “No’” Likewise, when Ellinger asked the female victim how she knew the suspect was urinating, the female victim replied that “she didn’t know for sure,” and that she not only did not observe the suspect’s penis, but that “[the female victim] did not look at the suspects at all.”

A month later, however, the story would change. In an interview on October 18th, the male victim who once claimed he did not see the suspect urinating, now claims to have “looked up and seen [Williamson] urinating.” Furthermore, the male victim was able to identify the suspect as “the skinny one with long hair,” and even gave a description of the suspect’s stance while “urinating.”

The female victim follows suit. On September 20th, she wasn’t sure if the suspect was indeed urinating because she “did not look at the suspects at all.” However, on October 18th, she states that after feeling drops of water strike her, she “looked up to where it had come from and saw two guys at the balcony laughing.” She then goes on to state that she “knew he urinated on me by the way he was standing.”


Despite the inconsistencies, the shirt the alleged female victim was wearing that night could have provided an objective clue as to what transpired. The female victim told detectives that she had not yet washed her shirt from the night in question, and that the urine of the suspect was still present on said shirt.

As such, the AAPD secured warrants to take buccal swabs for analysis from both suspects in the case, with the hope that the substance on the shirt could be identified as urine, and then attributed to either one of the suspects. Despite the fact that the analysis of the shirt was still pending in early January, charges were authorized against Stephen Williamson — and denied for the other suspect — on January 6th.

Regardless, when the Michigan State Police crime lab completed its analysis, they determined, in the words of Forensic Scientist Andrea Halvorson, that “chemical testing did not indicate the presence of creatinine on the shirt. Creatinine is found in high concentrations in urine.” In short, there is no forensic evidence to indicate the presence of the suspect’s urine on the victim’s shirt.


But the facts are as follows — a student has been charged with four crimes, carrying the possibility of jail time and registration as a sex offender. He was charged with these crimes based on the testimony of two victims who can’t seem to figure out if they actually had or had not observed the suspect urinating, a parking lot attendant whose testimony is not even corroborated by the victims themselves, other witnesses who dispute the victims’ claims, and a urine-less t-shirt.

The truth about what happened on that fateful night should be even further established as this matter proceeds to trial on March 21. While we may never agree, with any degree of certainty, on what happened last September, we can say with all certainty that this incident clearly bespeaks the hysteria and tension surrounding race relations on this campus — be they true or not.