Police Clear Players of Wrongdoing in Alleged Deer Attack

Photo by Nicole Williams

Public Safety and the Mahwah Police conducted investigations following allegations that members of the Roadrunners baseball team agitated deer on campus on March 23. Both investigations concluded that the deer were chased by the students, but were not harmed nor touched. The athletes were running wind sprints at the time and waved their arms to scatter the deer, authorities said.

“Numerous students were interviewed by Public Safety including those who were just observers, and all the stories were similar in nature stating that while the deer was chased it was not injured and none of the students got close to the deer,” Mahwah Chief of Police James N. Batelli said in a news release.

Chasing deer is not a crime, police said.

Public Safety interviewed players and coaches on the pitching staff of the baseball team after being notified by Professor Todd Barnes that he had witnessed members of the baseball team chase after the deer, saying that one of the players was holding a stick, a claim verified by a player on the team.

“Members of the Ramapo baseball team were emerging from the Bradley Center. Before I could register what was happening, the team converged on the deer, fanning out in order to surround them. There were at least 10 players present, and seven of them, in a coordinated attack, pounced on the deer,” said Barnes in an email.

Public Safety completed its investigation, concluding that the deer were not struck or touched. The Mahwah Police became involved after North Jersey Media Group notified them that they had received an anonymous tip that members of the baseball team had “killed a deer by beating it,” according to a news release from the Mahwah Police.

The Mahwah Police reviewed video surveillance of the area, which showed students running up the hill, but no deer. The police also said they found no evidence that the players harmed a deer.

Barnes also claimed that coaches were involved in the alleged attack, claiming that, “a few of the team coaches were present and participating in this cruel act. This is the part that disturbed me the most.”

Authorities did not address coach involvement.

The Office of Student Conduct is also probing the alleged incident and, according to spokesman Steven Hudik, students will be informed of potential action following the completion of that investigation.

“The allegations contained in the complaint are disturbing,” Hudik said in an email.  “If the allegations are correct, it is distressing if some individuals disturbed and chased the deer.”

Head baseball coach Rich Martin said at the time of the incident, the pitching staff, under the supervision of the pitching coach, was running up the hill near Birch Mansion as part of their practice.

“They were getting ready to go up the hill and they saw these two deer appear. A bunch of guys went up and chased the deer waving their arms,” said Martin. “They didn’t get closer than 50 feet. The deer took off. They came down the hill. They organized, and for the next 20 minutes they ran up and down the hill, and when they were done they came back in.“

According to Thomas Portesy, a player who was present during the incident, the team saw the two deer in the middle of the hill they were going to run up and ran towards them to get them away from the hill.

“We even went around them to force them back up by the mansion so they wouldn’t run in front of the street,” Portesy said. “We didn’t want them running across the street and getting hit by a car, so we forced them up and [Barnes] thought we were surrounding them to capture the deer.”

“Because either way when we started to run up the hill they we’re going to scatter. So why not just run up, get them off the hill?” said Charles Weinkofsky, a player who was also present during the incident. “We weren’t even close to 50 feet from them and they were already at the mansion. Deer are fast. They were gone.”

Barnes said that he was unable to see the players after they ran past the top of the hill, but said that he saw one player holding a stick.

“I did not see the students touch the deer, but I did see them chase it at full speed over the hill,” he said in an email. “The question becomes: if they didn’t touch the deer, is everything okay? I think no. They scared the deer and certainly tried to attack it. The deer will remember.”

According to Weinkofsky, one player was holding a branch, but never came within 50 feet of the deer.

The day following the incident Barnes wrote to President Mercer, the head of Public Safety, the Dean of Students, the Head of Athletics and the baseball coach.

Barnes said he was ashamed of the college.

“I was really disturbed by what I witnessed, but I was not at all surprised. In fact, it’s a cliché and a stereotype that athletes would act so callously and brutally. I was only sad to see our athletes living up to such an ugly stereotype, on my campus, representing my school. I was ashamed of Ramapo,” said Barnes in an email.

Barnes said he hoped that addressing the issue would start a larger conversation about campus climate.

“My initial reaction was to yell ‘shame on you’ to the attackers, but the shame and responsibility should not fall on their shoulders alone," Barnes said. "Their behavior is only a symptom of a larger, structural, cultural problem on our campus and beyond."