Panty Thief Sparks Security Meltdown at Barry University

It started with a troubled security guard stealing college coeds' underwear. It ended last month with the quiet resignation of the executive director of public safety and two top department officials at the second-largest Catholic university in Florida.

"They swept this under the rug," says Lindel Thomas, a former Barry University field supervisor and lieutenant who was terminated after exposing the mess. "They're cold-hearted people and racists who don't care about the students."

Barry University doesn't seem like a place where you'd turn up allegations of a scandal and coverup. Founded in 1940 with 45 female students, the lush, tree-lined Miami Shores campus is now home to about 8,700 full- and part-timers.

Crime has never been a big problem at Barry. When Stanley Young took over as public safety director 19 years ago, the campus was "so quiet and understated that visitors often [got] lost just trying to find it," the Miami Herald noted. As recently as 2006, the yearly report for campus crimes showed three car thefts, two robberies, and no incidents of violence.

Barry's security force "helps to preserve the academic environment and high quality of life on this beautiful South Florida campus," according to the school's website. Officers mostly patrol parking lots and respond to students who are quarrelling or locked out of their dorm rooms.

Ofcr. Jasper David Barnes arrived at Barry in 2002. A Navy veteran with a short Afro, he had never seen a sexual assault case or any sort of deviant behavior until this past April 16, when he says he noticed suspicious behavior from Lt. Larry Clark, a thin three-year employee and former house painter in his midfifties. During a cigarette break outside a campus launderette, Clark began talking about a video in which "two girls defecate into a cup and eat it," Barnes recalls.

Barnes became uncomfortable when, moments later, a female student walked by, carrying a load of clothes. After she left, Barnes and a second officer, Jimmy Thompson, claim they heard Clark say, "I wonder if any panties fell behind the washer." They then allegedly watched Clark search a row of washing machines for undergarments, states a report Barnes wrote to human resources.

Two days later, on April 18, Thompson watched Clark take a metal instrument from a security truck and fish panties out from behind a washing machine, the report indicates. He stuffed them into his pocket.

"It wasn't a secret," says Ofcr. Marie Dominique Verna, who has worked at Barry for two years. "[Clark] would walk around campus and smell girls' underwear."

It got nastier. Two weeks later, while responding to an intoxicated and distraught female student at a dormitory called Sage Hall, Clark allegedly told Barnes: "Slap the bitch. That would calm her ass down."

On April 24, word about the stolen underwear and lewd comment got to Lindel Thomas, a by-the-book former Jamaican cop with a clean-shaven head. He told Maj. Jose Chavez, who, Thomas believes, passed on the information to Director Stanley Young and Public Safety Coordinator Lorrie Thomas.

To the surprise of four security guards questioned by New Times, Clark wasn't suspended. "Everything Stan and Lorrie tried to cover up, we knew about," says Ofcr. Shirley Prophete, who has worked at Barry for a year. "They should have been fired a long time ago. They were like demons."

Lindel Thomas, the whistleblower, began to fear for his job and reported the matter to the university's human resources office. On August 5, authorities launched an investigation, he says. One month later, after the probe concluded, Stanley Young and Lorrie Thomas resigned. Finally Clark was fired, and Major Chavez, who had also been told of the underling's misbehavior, resigned.

It didn't end there. Around 4 a.m. September 10, Lindel Thomas had an argument with a co-worker, who subsequently called Miami Shores Police to complain of harassment. Later that day, he was summoned to the office, where assistant public safety director Cherie Knudson handed him a disciplinary action form that alleged he had "intimidated" the co-worker. She then told him he was fired.

The claim, however, seems unjustified. Though Miami Shores Police responded to a call about the alleged harassment, no one was arrested and a report doesn't even mention Thomas's name.

(Despite a visit and two phone calls seeking comment, Knudson would not comment about the case.) Clark, who has not been charged with a crime, acknowledges making a crude statement but contends he never fished behind washing machines for panties or sniffed them. He does, however, acknowledge playfully throwing a pair at a fellow employee.

He adds he is indeed friends with the top administrators who resigned, but says that didn't influence the investigation. He was fired because of false assertions that he has an underwear obsession. "The claims are totally fabricated," he says. I'll take a polygraph. Trust me — there was no favoritism."

Barry spokesman Michael Laderman confirmed the firings and resignations but declined to comment about the reason for them. "We can't discuss these things outside the university," he says. He declined to give contact information for the higherups who resigned.

Part of the friction among the officers might be based on racial differences. Most of those who complained about the higherups and preferential treatment are black. Clark and the top administrators are white. "The racial tension was subtle," Barnes says. "It makes for a very hostile environment."

Told of the firings, resignations, and alleged panty misdeeds, several Barry students say they knew nothing. "It's scary," comments Viany Dixon, a pretty premed student with soft, shiny skin. "We pay for a private university and I don't even feel safe. You don't know who to trust."

Adds Melissa Tellez, a sporty brown-haired marine biology major: "It's gross. You can't stand there for an hour and make sure nobody steals your underwear."

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Natalie O'Neill
Contact: Natalie O'Neill