OP-ED: OSU missed an opportunity to show support for law enforcement when it coddled student who assaulted a police officer

By failing to effectively discipline Mattin, OSU has minimized his criminal conduct and set a clear standard for the rest of the college community that assaulting someone will carry with it little, if any, disciplinary consequences.

Law Enforcement Appreciation Day was celebrated this year on January 9, 2022. The day is dedicated to recognizing and honoring all law enforcement officers who unselfishly serve and protect our communities, often at great risk to themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, there is pervasive negative political and activist rhetoric in American society that undermines support for law enforcement by recasting our men and women in blue as the enemy of an orderly society. 

This attitude has manifested as not only a deteriorated level of respect for police, but also increased crime, as well as assaults on law enforcement.

Assaults on police are not just limited to city streets. They also occur on college campuses including Bridgewater College, in Virginia, where a former student recently gunned down two safety officers simply for doing their job.             

Likewise, the lack of respect for police undoubtedly contributed to an incident involving Mr. Hunter Mattin, a White student currently enrolled at The Ohio State University (OSU).  

On April 13, 2021, Mr. Mattin participated in a Black Lives Matter protest against alleged police brutality in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The police confronted the protestors when they breached the locked entrance of the Columbus Police Headquarters and attempted to enter the building.  

When Sgt. Justin Coleman, a Black officer, directed Mattin and others to exit the building and indicated that they had broken the door, Mattin  repeatedly shouted “where’s your mask?” and “we didn’t break the door, you f*****r!”  

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Mattin then struck Sgt. Coleman with a wooden club in the chest and face, causing injury. 

Mattin was reportedly arrested and charged, later pleading guilty to assault and obstruction of official business in November 2021. He was sentenced to two days in jail and supervised release for one year.

Mattin was a second-year student at OSU pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Public Policy Analysis at the time of the incident. Mattin did not attend the University during the fall 2021 semester either voluntarily or as a result of disciplinary action taken by OSU. 

But this is not the end of the story. 

According to OSU’s Code of Student Conduct, the policy “is established to foster and protect the core missions of the university; to foster the scholarly and civic development of the university’s students in a safe and secure learning environment, and to protect the people, properties and processes that support the university and its missions.”  

With this lofty mission in mind, one might reasonably assume that, based on his admitted criminal conduct, Mattin would have been subject to the stiffest disciplinary sanctions available per OSU’s policies. Indeed, assaulting a police officer qualifies under the Code as “riotous” or “endangering” behavior, which are both subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.  

Astonishingly, however, OSU’s Registrar’s Office has recently confirmed in a response to a FERPA request that Mr. Mattin has been permitted to return to OSU and is currently enrolled as a full-time student for the spring 2022 semester. 

Yes, after pleading guilty to assaulting a police officer, Mr. Mattin has been permitted to return to OSU and resume his studies after missing only one semester. 

Mr. Mattin’s criminal conduct should not be confused with the rights of individuals to peaceably assemble and exercise their freedom of speech to disagree and dissent with their government as guaranteed by the First Amendment. 

Assaulting a police officer finds no cover under federal law and I am profoundly dismayed by OSU’s impotent response in addressing Mr. Mattin’s criminal conduct.

If OSU is truly committed to fostering the “scholarly and civic development” of its students and “protecting” the people and properties that support the university and its missions,” as stated in its Code, how has it achieved those ends by not holding Mattin more accountable for his criminal conduct?  

If the university is unwilling to dismiss Mattin for assaulting a police officer, or at a minimum issue a long-term suspension, under what circumstances would such discipline be warranted?  

Ironically, OSU suspended hundreds of students in August 2020 for violating COVID protocols. 

In doing so, Melissa Shivers, the Vice President of Student Life, informed students that “[p]erhaps knowing about the action we are taking will influence your decisions and prompt you to encourage others to take this situation seriously.”  

Unfortunately, students did not receive a similar threat of disciplinary action in the event they engaged in criminal activity, such as assaulting a police officer. 

By failing to effectively discipline Mattin, OSU has minimized his criminal conduct and set a clear standard for the rest of the college community that assaulting someone, including a police officer, will carry with it little, if any, disciplinary consequences.    

Minimizing criminal conduct and coddling criminals only encourages more crime.  

One need only look at cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago where efforts to reimagine law enforcement by defunding the police, eliminating cash bail, and/or not prosecuting certain crimes have resulted in an escalation in criminal activity, including murder.   

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One way to minimize crime and coddle criminals is to redefine the term “crime.”

In 1993, U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) published an article in the American Educator entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” 

Moynihan observed that by lowering the bar on what constitutes criminal conduct, society had developed a numb acceptance of behavior that previous generations would have considered illicit or abhorrent. 

Crime rates that years ago would have been thought epidemic, have now been normalized.

As an example, Moynihan contrasts the nation’s shock and outrage at the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where seven gangsters were savagely killed by a rival gang, with current society’s indifference or ambivalence to similar “massacres” occurring throughout many of our cities every weekend

“A society that loses its sense of outrage is doomed to extinction,” Moynihan wrote. 

By failing to strongly discipline Mr. Mattin for his criminal conduct, OSU has missed an important teachable moment. By treating Mattin’s conduct lightly, the university also missed the opportunity to send an unmistakable message to the rest of the OSU community and law enforcement that it will not tolerate criminal conduct, regardless of the justification presented. 

Unfortunately, the university has chosen to coddle Mattin by failing to sufficiently hold him accountable for his criminal actions leaving him neither remorseful nor repentant

OSU’s failure to condemn Mattin’s criminal conduct is another example of defining deviancy down, which is absolutely the wrong lesson to teach at this time in higher education.