University of Iowa police find confrontation was not 'strong-armed robbery'

'Out of an abundance of caution, the UIPD issued a Hawk Alert'

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A University of Iowa “Hawk Alert” Tuesday that warned the campus of a “strong armed robbery” involving three black males actually was a confrontation about a previously stolen bike.

After stepping off a bus near the Dental Science Building just before 2 p.m. Tuesday, a woman saw the three shirtless men with what she believed was her missing bike and confronted them. An independent witness called UI police at 1:59 p.m. to report a “strong-armed robbery of a bike in progress,” according to UI Police Chief Lucy Wiederholt

“Out of an abundance of caution, the UIPD issued a Hawk Alert at 2:06 p.m. to warn campus about a potential ongoing safety issue,” Wiederholt told The Gazette.

After the campus alert, police received multiple calls from the public reporting the “suspects’ whereabouts.” They were located at 2:43 p.m. and questioned.

Upon further investigation, officers learned the woman’s Roadmaster Mt. Climber bike was stolen in Coralville between March 13 and 19.

UI police determined one of the bikes the men had Tuesday belonged to the woman.

“One of them claimed to have found it in North Liberty,” Wiederholt said.

The woman decided not to pursue charges against the suspects, and they were released. The bike was returned, and UI police “consider this issue to be resolved.”

Although it wasn’t a robbery, Wiederholt said the incident “serves as an example of how Hawk Alert is supposed to work.”

“Thanks to help from the public and the Iowa City Police Department, the suspects were quickly located, and the bike in question was confiscated until the rightful owner could be determined,” she said.

The Hawk Alert system, according to the university, is used to notify the campus community of threats to physical safety in emergency situations. Wiederholt said Tuesday’s alert went out based “on the information we had at the time.”

“Based on the information being given as the incident was occurring, the Hawk Alert was appropriate,” she said.

The university in May came under fire for not issuing any campuswide notification after a UI student went to UI police to report being attacked in a hate crime. The student was sent away to Iowa City police because the incident occurred off campus.

The student in that case, Marcus Owens, later admitted to lying about the circumstances of his assault. But critics maintained campus police should have done more to respond to him and potentially protect the UI community.

The university also didn’t issue an alert in February when it expelled an international student who posted a reference on social media to the Gang Lu campus massacre in 1991 that left six dead and one paralyzed.

The UI’s threat assessment team, in that case, investigated the “concerning comment on social media,” and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office canceled his gun permits after learning his visa was being revoked.

But the university didn’t issue a campus warning after the assessment team “determined there was no imminent risk and took the necessary precautions to ensure the campus community was safe.”

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