Felony charges against three MIT students who set off a burglar alarm in the E52 Faculty Club last October were dropped Wednesday by the Middlesex County district attorney's office. The students contend that they were hacking when found by the police. The case will now be handled within the Institute by the Committee on Discipline.
Kristina K. Brown '09, David Nawi G, and Matthew W. Petersen '09 appeared in court Wednesday for what was originally a motion hearing. No motions were heard, according to Steven J. Sack, the attorney for Brown, as the district attorney moved to dismiss the case instead.
The judge, Severlin B. Singleton, chose not to dismiss the case himself and had the prosecution file a nolle prosequi order, indicating that they would not move forward on the charges, Sack said.
"The Commonwealth has spoken to [R.] Greg Morgan, General Counsel of MIT," the orders for Nawi states. "Mr. Morgan on behalf of MIT has requested the case be dismissed, so MIT may handle this matter internally and administratively, as they have done in the past in similar situations. The Commonwealth also spoke with Chief [John] DiFava of the MIT Police who indicated that the MIT Police would be in agreement with a dismissal."
According to the district attorney's press office, the language for Brown's and Petersen's nolle prosequi orders had similar language.
Morgan and DiFava did not return calls for comment. Brown declined to comment about the case, because of the upcoming CoD hearings. According to DiFava in a previous interview, as a matter of process, when a case comes up before the CoD, the officers involved could be called on to testify.
The MIT News Office released a statement: "After further discussions with the Middlesex County district attorney's office, MIT, and counsel for the students, this matter will now be addressed through MIT's internal disciplinary procedures, rather than through further court proceedings."
"The defendants are gratified that the district attorney's office chose to [drop] the case and that they were guided, in part, by the MIT administration and the MIT Police," Petersen's attorney, John M. Moscardelli of Peters & Moscardelli, said to The Boston Globe on behalf of the students. Heather V. Baer of Sally & Fitch LLP, the attorney for Nawi, said she was unable to comment on the case.
The students had been charged with breaking and entering in the nighttime, with the intent to commit a felony, and trespassing. Additionally, Petersen was charged with possession of burglarious tools for carrying a slide, an L-shaped piece of metal that can be used to open certain doors.
According to the narrative filed with the police report, MIT Police Officers Sean C. Munnelly and Duane R. Keegan responded to a burglar alarm in the Faculty Club at approximately 1:50 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2006 and found Brown, Petersen, and Nawi in the kitchen. The Faculty Club is located on the sixth floor of Building E52. The students were found near an open panel in the wall that leads to a crawl space, the narrative states.
The narrative, written by Munnelly, states that the elevator used to reach the sixth floor Faculty Club would only take the officers to the fifth floor. The elevators are supposed to be locked so that they will not travel to the sixth floor when the Faculty Club is closed. The narrative also states that there was a visible "no trespassing" sign on the door that opened onto the sixth floor from the stairwell.
Nawi's motion moved to dismiss conflicts with the police's story, stating that the elevator functioned without restriction that night, taking the three students to the sixth floor, and that there were "no signs indicating that access to the sixth floor was not permitted after-hours."
The case raised concern amongst some in the MIT community who felt that the students were being brought to court for an activity that in the past had been handled within the Institute.
However, according to Undergraduate Association President Andrew T. Lukmann '07, who said that he had spoken with MIT administrators, there is a strong consensus that what happened in this case is "by no means setting any kind of precedent."
Lukmann said that he had also spoken with Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict about working with the MIT Police in the future to assemble clear guidelines on how to handle these situations in the future. Lukmann said he has plans to set up a meeting with DiFava for next week.
Students and alumni involved in the hacking community have been helping to pay the legal bills of the three students. "We've managed to raise $10,327 through a combination of donations from 20 alumni and a chocolate fundraiser," Stanley R. Zanarotti SM '89 said in an e-mail. According to Zanarotti, $1,877 was raised at the Feb. 20 chocolate fundraiser, which 100 students and alumni attended. "We still expect there will be another $2,500 of legal bills."