A message sent by the college’s alert notification system on the evening of March 7 — the last day before Spring Break — informed the campus community that Media Police were on campus and searching the Crum Woods for a man associated with a hit and run incident. The hit and run occurred as a part of a drug bust gone awry.
According to news reports, officers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division were conducting an undercover drug operation around 4:00 p.m. at the Ravel Motel in Media, off Baltimore Pike on Providence Road. A member of the Delaware County Narcotics Task Force arranged for a purchase of 31 bags of heroin and, after the completion of the sale, according to court documents, officers tried to capture Saleem Montgomery, 26, of Philadelphia, who delivered the drugs.
When Montgomery returned to his car to drive away, officers surrounded the vehicle to try to arrest Montgomery and two other men in the car, Isiah Herrin, 22, and Alvin Washington, 27, also of Philadelphia. The car charged surrounding officers, hit a nearby car and almost hit several officers. An ATF agent fired at the car but was hit by it in the process and has been treated for a minor ankle injury.
The suspects hit several other cars as they fled eastbound on Baltimore Pike, running two red lights and darting into oncoming traffic. The car finally stopped on the southbound ramp to I-476, where it hit two vehicles, causing minor injuries to passengers in both cars. The three men ran into the nearby woods and Herrin and Washington were both arrested in Nether Providence Township following a foot chase. Montgomery, the alleged heroin dealer and driver of the vehicle, escaped.
According to an alert notification sent out to students around 5:45 p.m. on Friday, police were searching for Montgomery, described as “a dark complexion black male, 6’3” – 6’6” tall, 300 pounds, with a beard, wearing black pants with a black and grey hooded jacket and sneakers,” around campus. The notification described him as being “involved in a hit-and-run with Media Police.”
The police search involved Route 476, Baltimore Pike, Turner Road and Plush Mill Road, as well as the Crum Woods Meadow and the Crum Creek. Helicopters flew over the Swarthmore campus as police searched for any sign of Montgomery. Four hours after the initial alert, a second alert was sent out saying that local law enforcement had cleared the area and that no report of the suspect had been made.
While the college’s alert notification system includes phone messages, text messages and emails to those who sign up, there was a glitch. The Google/Postini spam filtering system, which Information Technology Services (ITS) uses to filter Swatmail, sent around 80 percent of these messages to Swatmail’s quarantine, according to Joel Cooper, chief information technology officer.
“This happened because of changes made to Postini by Google,” Cooper said. “They make regular changes because of the ever-changing and dynamic nature of email spam. Swarthmore’s Blackboard emergency notification system worked fine as recently as February 5, 2014, when an emergency notification message was sent successfully regarding the campus power outage.”
Marisa Lopez ’15, who had yet to leave for spring break, is among the students who did not receive the email notification. Hearing about the incident from the local news channel that was playing at the nail salon she was in, Lopez decided to wait to return to campus.
“As I was driving back towards campus, I saw cops blocking all the entrances to 476 and I-95 and before I had to make the turn from the [Baltimore] Pike towards campus, I got an automated call from Public Safety warning that the person had last been spotted by the Science Center,” she said.
Cooper explained that experiences such as Lopez’s are the reason so many forms of notification are available.
Still, Lopez does not feel the notification system at Swarthmore is adequate.
“While my safety does not feel threatened, this experience for me shows that crisis communication between Public Safety and the campus community needs to be improved.”
Cooper explained that ITS will continue to work with Public Safety to ensure that the alert notification system works as efficiently as possible. A test conducted last Friday, one week after the two messages were sent, was successful, Cooper said.
“Going forward, we will work with Public Safety to conduct periodic tests of the Blackboard system to make sure that all modes of communication continue to work properly,” he continued.
Montgomery was arrested last Thursday, six days after the incident, by U.S. Marshals in Fort Montgomery, New York, after officials barricaded the area around a rap show. Montgomery is now being charged with attempted homicide, five counts of recklessly endangering another person, aggravated assault by vehicle, accidents involving death or personal injury, fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, and aggravated assault, as well as drug charges. He will go on trial March 28 in Philadelphia for the heroin sale that prompted the investigation, which occurred last September.
Sixty heroin-related deaths were reported in Delaware County in 2013, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Correction: An earlier online version of this article incorrectly attributed this article only to Razi Shaban. It was co-written with Sarah Coe-Odess. The Phoenix apologizes for this error.