Posted on May 9, 2011

A Law Student Plays the Race Card–and Gets Busted, Big Time

David Lat, Above the Law, May 7, 2011


In late April, Johnathan Perkins, a third-year law student at UVA, wrote a letter to the editor that was published in Virginia Law Weekly, the law school’s student newspaper. In his letter, Perkins claimed that he was harassed by UVA university police while walking home from a party, purportedly on account of his race (he’s African-American). Perkins said he was moved to share the story “because it is important for my classmates to hear a real-life anecdote illustrating the myth of equal protection under the law.”

The trouble is, it was anything but a “real-life anecdote,” as Perkins himself recently confessed. . .&nbp;.

If Perkins’s intent was to spark a discussion, he succeeded. Virginia Law Weekly ran a companion piece to the letter in its April 22 edition, in which a reporter interviewed members of the faculty about the incident. Students discussed the story with one another, over lunch and at parties. {snip}

University officials conducted an investigation to get to the bottom of what happened. And here’s what they found, according to UVA’s recent press release {snip}:

On May 5, after a thorough investigation into allegations that University of Virginia police officers had mistreated an African-American law student, the individual acknowledged that his story had been a fabrication.

“I wrote the article to bring attention to the topic of police misconduct,” he said in a written statement. “The events in the article did not occur.”

Wow–that’s actually kind of impressive. Go back and read Perkins’s letter. It’s dramatic, describing the “two different worlds” that whites and African-Americans supposedly inhabit, and invoking the names of police brutality victims Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima. And it’s detailed, with descriptions of how Perkins was supposedly manhandled by the officers, as well as lines of dialogue from the encounter (“Oh, he’s a law student.”).

And to think that it was all made up. If this whole “law” thing doesn’t work out for Perkins, he could explore a career as a novelist or screenwriter.

What’s going to happen to Perkins? Will he be charged with filing a false report? Apparently not, according to the UVA press release:

“I recognize that police misconduct does occur,” [university police chief Michael Gibson] said. “Pressing charges in this case might inhibit another individual who experiences real police misconduct from coming forward with a complaint. I want to send the message just how seriously we take such charges and that we will always investigate them with care and diligence.”

So Johnathan Perkins won’t face criminal charges as a result of his misrepresentations. But he will face the scorn and anger of UVA classmates and alumni. {snip}


Perkins is set to graduate on May 22, despite the fact that he lied to the UVa Law community, the university community, Charlottesville, and Albemarle County. As the Honor Committee states, the three criteria of a violation are: act, intent, and seriousness. Perkins knew he was lying, acted upon that fabrication by sending the story to the Virginia Law Weekly and local media outlets, and the seriousness of the situation is exemplified by the internal investigation that was started and the widespread publicity the story got in the local media outlets. This conduct is a blatant and intentional violation of the honor code and should be taken seriously.

If the honor committee does not take action against this simply because Perkins is supposed to graduate in two weeks, it undercuts the entire Honor Code system at UVa. Should a UVa law student be immune from violating the honor code simply because he’s so close to graduation? Of course not; this is a public and egregious violation of the honor code that brings shame on the entire UVa community and should be dealt with swiftly and justly, before Perkins is allowed to graduate, if he should be allowed to graduate at all.