Report finds UA campus safety gaps after fatal shooting

Mar 28, 2023, 7:00 PM

(Rebecca Sasnett/Arizona Daily Star via AP)...

(Rebecca Sasnett/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

(Rebecca Sasnett/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — There were multiple missed opportunities to investigate and possibly arrest an expelled University of Arizona graduate student who shot and killed a professor last year, according to an independent review.

A report conducted by PAX Group, a consulting firm with security expertise, on the October slaying of Thomas Meixner, a hydrology professor, was released Monday. The company, which was contracted by the school, interviewed nearly 140 people, including Meixner’s family.

“There were systemic issues across our university that should have been identified and corrected,” University President Dr. Robert Robbins said during a news conference. “I’m angry at myself that I did not do more to prevent this tragedy.”

Robbins received the report late Friday.

It found faculty in the Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences Department, which Meixner chaired, brought up threats and harassment from Murad Dervish, 47, between November 2021 and January 2022. But there was no coordinated leadership of the school’s threat assessment team.

So, faculty went to campus police and the Dean of Students Office. Both entities shared links to mental health resources with Dervish. But there was fractured communication. Sharing information might have led to further investigation, and police might have turned up a criminal history and other behavioral red flags, the report says.

PAX made 33 recommendations for the school in areas of identifying and managing threats, communications and crisis responses, including having a campus head of public safety and making necessary improvements to the UAlert system, which sends out warnings about active shooter situations to campus community members. The system had glitches at the time of the shooting.

Some of those recommendations are already in motion. Steve Patterson, a 25-year FBI veteran, will become the interim chief safety officer in May. He will meet regularly with Robbins and other officials.

In February 2022, a flyer with a photograph of Dervish had been circulated to university staff with instructions to call 911 if he ever entered the building.

Dervish is facing seven felony charges related to the shooting, including first-degree murder.

In the days following the shooting, Robbins had said campus police tried to get Dervish charged two separate times before the shooting. Administrators took the complaints to Pima County prosecutors but were told there wasn’t enough evidence.

“In neither instance did the facts of the complaint meet the evidentiary requirements for charging (Dervish) with the crime of threats and intimidation at that time,” County Attorney Laura Conover said in a statement following the shooting.

In February, the UA Faculty Senate released its own interim report about campus safety. The committee criticized the university for fostering an environment that “consciously and consistently disregards employee and students’ safety concerns,” the Arizona Daily Star reported.

In response, the university in a statement dismissed the faculty report as being based on “misleading characterizations and the selective use of facts and quotations.”

Robbins on Monday backtracked on those remarks.

“I also want to recognize the important work of the faculty senate committee,” Robbins said. “I apologized to them for being dismissive and critical of their important work and their contributions simply to make our campus safer.”

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Report finds UA campus safety gaps after fatal shooting