Balloon attack investigations fizzle

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Gregory Vincent, vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, issued a statement to UT students saying that water balloon attacks in West Campus are more than just “school yard pranks.” But according to the victims, criminal investigations into the attacks may be fizzling. 

According to Eduardo Belalcazar, an international relations and global studies junior who had a water balloon thrown at him outside 26 West on Sept. 7, authorities in charge of handling his case have been lax in their follow-up investigation, although he said he has not pressed the matter further.

“UTPD hasn’t contacted me [and] neither has APD,” Belalcazar said. “The University just gave me some type of outreach, but when I asked what the school was doing about it, they didn’t respond. It’s just a very disheartening thing for me to see the lack of importance that this has on my campus. I honestly don’t know what else I could do.”

Because he was not actually hit by the balloon, Belalcazar is at a legal impasse, according to UTPD chief of police David Carter.

“If there’s no crime that can be prosecuted because it fails to meet the criteria listed in the penal code, then we’re limited to what we can do,” Carter said. “That’s why we wanted to know if there was bleach or some caustic chemical in the balloon that can hurt somebody. That would be more than a class C misdemeanor and could conceivably be prosecuted.”

An attempted water balloon attack that does not cause physical harm would fall well below what is considered “criminal,” Carter said. 

“If somebody attempts to commit a crime, it’s usually considered one level of offense below, in terms of the penalty group,” Carter said.

According to Carter, penalty groups include capital felony, first-, second- and third-degree felonies, as well as misdemeanors A, B and C.

“A Class C misdemeanor for assault, which refers to assaults by physical contact, is the very lowest of its kind,” Carter said. “There’s nothing below that. So if an assault is attempted, it’s not even on the legal spectrum. It can’t be prosecuted.”

University Towers is currently investigating the Aug. 22 balloon attack on government senior Bryan Davis, which occurred outside the apartment complex. Davis said police have suspended his case until further evidence is produced.

Ronnie Davis, community manager for University Towers, said the complex could not give specific information as to whether anyone has been caught or evicted.

Gina Cowart, a spokeswoman for American Campus Community, which manages several West Campus apartment complexes, including 26 West, could not be reached for comment.

Carter said he ultimately thinks incidents such as water balloon attacks are issues best handled at the administrative level.

“Just because certain incidents can’t be prosecuted as crimes, that doesn’t mean that [they’re] not wrong,” Carter said. “It may mean that the incident should be handled at the administrative level. For instance, there’s Student Judicial Services, and their jurisdiction is primarily on campus, but they can respond to certain incidents that occur off campus.”

According to Vincent, students responsible for the attacks in West Campus are held accountable under the University’s disciplinary system.