Police chief sends confidential email to student

When a sophomore was sexually harassed in February, an email containing details of the harassment was sent to a person not involved in the case.

Chief of University Police Monica Moll meant to send a simple “thank you” to her colleagues, but instead, sent the private report to a random student, whose name was similar to an officer’s.

“What I’ve learned from this is check, check and double check,” Moll said.

The report was filed by the victim, a student, in an online system called Maxient, which is used for student conduct reports. Anyone can report something unofficially to the University through the system and it is sent immediately to Student Affairs officials through email.

The case was a sexual harassment, so Moll’s role was finding out if the alleged perpetrator had any prior offenses.

She was emailing a few University administrators and some of her own employees about prior offenses and her role in the process was just about to end, when she sent the email to the wrong person.

“A lot of things get handled over email,” Moll said. “We also got to be careful because things like this could happen.”

The BG News obtained the email when it was sent to a reporter from the student who received the email wrongly. She wishes to stay anonymous and said she was shocked when she got it.

“I didn’t really know what it was until I read further down,” she said. “If I were in [the victim’s] shoes, I’d be pissed.”

The student said she thinks the system should be changed.

“[It was] definitely sensitive information with specific peoples’ names, the suspect and everything,” she said.

Jodi Webb, dean of Students, wasn’t directly involved in the process but said “as an institution, [we] put students’ confidentiality at the top of our list.”

“When we work with students in any situation, we don’t want them to have reasons to question credibility,” Webb said. “I think that this is a case where an error was made, obviously there was not intent to share it with anyone.”

Moll said what she did “goes against what I’m out there trying to do” as police chief because it could cause victims to not report sexual offenses, she said.

“It’s so hard to get victims to come forward to begin with,” Moll said. “[It was] an unintentional disclosure; in some cases I think that could just make it harder.”

Moll said these situations are often dealt with through email because it allows for a faster response.

A benefit to emailing the information can be that it chronicles what happens and allows for fast responses, Webb said.

“If we say ‘OK, we aren’t going to use email at all,’ what I worry about is it may slow down response time to situations that need attention. I think that could be a negative repercussion if we were to say we won’t transmit electronically,” Webb said. “I think in the era we live in … anytime we’re transmitting information … there’s always that possibility that someone else gains that knowledge inadvertently. It happens. I think there’s always that risk.”

In this case, the student who filed the report said she was responded to very quickly.

Sometimes a quick response can come at a cost.

The student who filed the report was notified that her information was sent to an uninvolved student, and she said she “wasn’t really upset because it wasn’t really super personal about myself.”

Though she wasn’t upset about it, the mistake may have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects students’ private educational records.

A representative from the Ohio Board of Regents, a coordinating body for Ohio higher education, said they don’t think “the University misunderstands or misapplied the rule, but made a mistake.”

The Board of Regents’ legal counsel did not know what laws may have been violated when the email was sent to the wrong recipient.

“No amount of incompetence will ever violate FERPA,” said a representative of the Student Press Law Center.

However, the policy may violate Title IX or be an ordinary breach of privacy, he said.

The victim doesn’t intend to file any complaints against the University or press charges against the alleged perpetrator.

As to whether or not other students would be bothered, she said “I think it would depend on each student and their own personal preference.”

The student who received the report Snapchatted it to a friend to see if they had gotten it and then emailed it to two of her trusted friends, one who was a BG News reporter.

She said no one contacted her to tell her it was confidential, but she did delete the email.

She said she would have known right away not to email it if there had been a confidentiality notice on the email, but there wasn’t.

“I’m beginning to see why people have a big disclaimer [notice], because [email] is the way the world’s work is getting done now,” Moll said.

Though the student who received the email said no one reached out to her, Moll said she notified the victim that the email had been sent in error. She said if the student hadn’t come forward, the University might never have known about the mistake.