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Posted October 2, 2017, 7:00 am CDT
A former University of Virginia law student says he recanted a claim that he had been racially profiled by university police officers in 2011 because he was pressured during an interrogation by the FBI.
Johnathan Perkins is a black lawyer working in the general counsel’s office at Harvard University. He tells the Cavalier Daily that his original allegations about the police stop were true, but he recanted in an interrogation that lasted more than two hours.
Perkins said FBI supervisory agent Robert Hilland listed the consequences if Perkins stuck by his story. Hilland “then promised me that if I just simply told him that it didn’t happen, then I could be done with it and no one, no other people would have to be involved,” Perkins told the newspaper.
“I take full responsibility for bending to the special agent’s pressure,” Perkins told the Cavalier Daily. “It has been my life’s greatest regret.”
Hilland had told Perkins he was investigating because the FBI was conducting a civil rights investigation. Perkins now believes the FBI may have been brought in “to obtain a public, police-friendly resolution” to the high-profile case.
Perkins provided the newspaper with a voicemail from Hilland, left before the interrogation. A former classmate confirmed she was with Perkins and waited for him during the interrogation, which was also attended by two university police officers.
Perkins said in his original letter to the editor that he was stopped by two white university officers as he was walking home from a bar review session. Perkins described how the officers told him he fit the description of someone they were looking for, were sarcastic when they learned he was a law student, frisked him and followed him home.
Another law student and a law professor confirmed to the Cavalier Daily that Perkins had told them about the profiling incident after it occurred. The law professor, Kim Forde-Mazrui, said he had suggested that Perkins write the letter. After Perkins recanted the police accusation, he told the professor the original story was true but he had signed a recantation.
Perkins faced a trial by the university’s honors committee in 2011 for allegedly lying about being profiled. He was acquitted of the charges and received his law degree. He passed the bar exam and was certified as fit to practice law.
Perkins worked for two private law firms before joining Harvard.
Since the incident, Perkins said, he has been afraid to speak for fear of media ridicule, professional scorn or even retaliation from law enforcement. “I’m still afraid,” he said. “I’m sure there will be consequences for speaking out again. But starting today, I won’t let that fear control me.”
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