Saturday, March 04, 2006

Doing Your Homework Can Get You Arrested

Only Indian kids would go to such lengths to finish a class assignment.

The University of Maryland's student paper, the Diamondback is reporting that three graduate students from India (two men and a woman) were detained and questioned for nearly four hours by Montgomery County police early Tuesday morning for using a device to track wireless communication signals for a class assignment (thanks masked tipster). Neighbors reported the three to the police for suspicious activity because they had been driving through Silver Spring, Md (a suburb of Washington DC) at about 15 miles per hour with elaborate equipment in their rental vehicle.

Yeah, it sounds shady. If a car was constantly roaming around my neighborhood from about 10 pm to 2 in the morning, I too would probably be a little suspicious, especially at that hour. Well, so were the police.

At about 2 a.m. early Tuesday morning while driving through a residential Silver Spring neighborhood, the students noticed a police car following them and flashing its lights. The students were stopped and answered questions about their identities, equipment and assignment, and were then escorted by police back to I-495 and sent home.

You would think it would have ended at that. It is kind of funny, a trio of Indian students geekily get pulled over, not for partying or do something illegal, but for doing their homework. The crappy thing is, it didn't end there.

Police from Montgomery and Prince George's counties rejoined the students at their Berwyn House Road apartments, where after more questioning, an officer copied down the equipment's serial numbers and informed one of the male students his laptop appeared on a list of stolen electronics.Officers detained them there for nearly two hours, questioned them, photographed them, recorded detailed descriptions of their physical appearances and inspected their visas, passports, university identifications and international driving permits.

Now I am a bit confused. Why would the police need to follow them home? The students showed the police their ids, equipment, and explained to the police the class assignment. What was the point in following them home and recording all of their personal data? And the bit about taking the laptop I am not too clear on.

"Everyone was shocked, dumbfounded, speechless," the female student said. "This has never happened before in our lives. I was very angry. I didn't appreciate the harassment." The students were released by officers about 5 a.m. Tuesday and later informed their professor and department.

And yet, it all could have probably went away had they called their professor earlier. The good Indian students that they are, they didn't want to bother him.

They said they didn't want to call us in the middle of the night and wake us up," said Steve Tretter, director of the program. "I told them they were crazy and should have called us immediately." Tretter said he and administrators were upset for the students.


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