The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt releases findings of third-party legal investigation into arrest of journalist Eli Motycka

The report concluded Motycka’s arrest occurred irrespective of his status as a journalist and recommended Vanderbilt formalize its media access policy.
Eli+Motycka%2C+a+Nashville+Scene+reporter%2C+is+arrested+by+the+Vanderbilt+University+Police+Department+near+Kirkland+Hall+at+Vanderbilt+University%2C+as+photographed+on+March+26%2C+2024.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FJosh+Rehders
Josh Rehders
Eli Motycka, a Nashville Scene reporter, is arrested by the Vanderbilt University Police Department near Kirkland Hall at Vanderbilt University, as photographed on March 26, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders

Vanderbilt released the results of an independent legal review investigating Vanderbilt University Police Department’s March 26 arrest of Eli Motycka and media access policies on June 5. At the time of his arrest, Motycka, a reporter for the Nashville Scene, was on Vanderbilt’s campus covering a student sit-in protest against administration’s cancellation of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions referendum

The 27-page report, released on April 4 and written by Aubrey B. Harwell, Jr. (B.A. ’64, J.D. ’67) and his team, focused only on Motycka’s arrest and not on the arrests of or disciplinary actions toward protesting students. The report concluded that Motycka was not arrested to impede media coverage of the protest but because he repeatedly attempted to enter Kirkland Hall, a closed building. 

The report further revealed that Motcyka’s arrest contradicted orders from higher-ranked officials in VUPD’s chain of command, who later opted not to reverse his arrest despite having the opportunity to do so.

Vanderbilt’s June 4 press release stated that the review’s goals were to investigate why Motycka was arrested, what steps might have been taken before his detention and how Vanderbilt can balance free speech and campus safety. In an interview with The Hustler immediately preceding the report’s release, Chancellor Daniel Diermeier simplified these goals.

“The whole goal of this was to ask ourselves: what can we do better? We have, as a university, a commitment to continuous improvement. The report is, I think, one example of that,” Diermeier said. “It’s not about finger-pointing.”

Diermeier further said he was “very pleased” by the report’s findings, which included comprehensive recommendations and the conclusion that the university did not violate its commitment to free speech, expression and press. 

Motycka’s name and all other names were redacted in the report. 

“[Concerns] were raised because there was a question saying, ‘Vanderbilt, you have this commitment to free expression, and now what is that [arrest of the press] all about?’ [It was] totally legitimate concern.”

— Chancellor Daniel Diermeier

Media policy review 

The counsel found that the university lacks a formal written policy on media access, though, in practice, it has consistently asked media outlets to inform its Division of Communications prior to arriving on campus to cover a story. According to the report, broadcast media outlets have been sent text message reminders of this policy, while print and other outlets have not.

Though Motycka texted and called three of the university’s communications officers multiple times upon his arrival around 12:20 p.m. CDT, none responded to him before the arrest. Two officers said their “evolving plan” was, first, to confirm with the Nashville Scene that Motycka was present in the capacity of a reporter — according to the report, Motckya was previously asked to leave an on-campus construction site protest by VUPD — and, then, to meet him at Kirkland Hall, but he was arrested at 1:30 p.m. CDT before they could reach him. 

The counsel recommended that Vanderbilt create and publicize a formal media access policy, ensure that there is a 24/7 contact that media can reach out to with inquiries and promote a cooperative relationship with media that is consistent with the First Amendment.

“There is a 24-hour number people can call,” Diermeier told The Hustler. “We just need to make sure that people can reach us quickly when there’s breaking news. This is basically an operational problem that we just need to make sure we’re doing well.”

VUPD miscommunication

The report revealed that, on the morning of Motycka’s arrest, high-ranking VUPD officers held a briefing in which the chief deputy stated that there “were to be no arrests without going through the chain of command.” The arresting officer, however, stated that he was directed by another officer to arrest Motycka, incorrectly presuming the order to arrest had been authorized by the command. During this meeting, officers were shown a picture of Motycka and told he would either be around the building or possibly already inside. 

VUPD command did not find out about Motycka’s arrest until its announcement on the police radio and subsequently chose not to overrule the decision. In a statement to The Hustler, Motycka’s legal counsel, Tricia Herzfeld, emphasized the “lack of clear policies and communication” portrayed in the report.

“The report confirms that Vanderbilt’s administration and the campus police were in complete disarray during these protests,” the statement reads. “This resulted in the unlawful arrest of Eli Motycka, a reporter who was just doing his job.”

Motycka’s arrest

According to the report, Motycka was arrested because he attempted to gain access to Kirkland Hall “several times” after VUPD informed him he was not permitted to enter the building. VUPD did not allow Motycka to leave campus before he was arrested. The report concluded that he was not arrested because he was a reporter — on which Motycka agreed — but rather for his actions.

“Vanderbilt’s arrest of the one reporter was not done to impede or prevent a reporter from covering the protest, and, thus, was not contrary to its values to support and encourage the First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly and press,” the report reads. 

When asked if he considers Motycka’s arrest to be a mistake, Diermeier said that “mistake is a hard call” and that “people make decisions with limited information and so forth.”

Moving forward

In addition to adopting and distributing a formal media access policy, recommendations made by the counsel include developing standard protocols between VUPD and Communications for working with media who intend to cover breaking news on campus and promoting a “cooperative relationship” with the media. The counsel further recommended that, unless unsafe, trespassers be allowed to leave campus prior to arrest and that these guidelines be appropriately communicated with all VUPD officers.

Diermeier told The Hustler that the university plans to implement all recommendations delineated in the report. Herzfeld also expressed hope for Vanderbilt’s forthcoming policy changes and called attention to the effects of the arrest on Motycka.

“We are hopeful that Vanderbilt will heed the recommendations in this report and develop a truly media-friendly policy while also making things right by Eli,” the statement reads.

Editor’s note: No staffers from The Hustler who were interviewed for the report also wrote this article or interviewed Diermeier.

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About the Contributors
Barrie Barto
Barrie Barto, Editor-in-Chief
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with neuroscience and communication of science & technology minors in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. When she's not strolling around campus with her camera, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
Rhea Patney
Rhea Patney, Managing Editor
Rhea Patney (‘26) is majoring in medicine, health and society and communication of science and technology on the pre-med track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from St. Louis and previously served as Deputy Data Director. When not writing for The Hustler, Rhea loves reading, starting new TV shows and struggling to finish them, playing sports and watching sunsets with her friends. She can be reached at [email protected].
Brina Ratangee
Brina Ratangee, Editorial Director
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. She previously served as News Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Josh Rehders
Josh Rehders, Former Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Ousmane Dieng
1 month ago

But this was a dictionary definition of violating freedom of press. Were they just looking for reasons to arrest him? What 😑

Last edited 1 month ago by Ousmane Dieng
F
fuck diermeier
1 month ago

CIA investigates role in crack trade, finds no wrongdoing