By Claire Wang
Police arrived at White Plaza early Tuesday afternoon in response to a call from Stanford College Republicans (SCR) President John Rice-Cameron ’20, who alleged that Melinda Hernandez ’21 physically assaulted him at an SCR tabling event the group was holding in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s recent Supreme Court confirmation.
Hernandez and multiple other witnesses denied these allegations, claiming that she touched him without force.
According to Stanford Department of Public Safety spokesperson Bill Larson, Hernandez was placed under a private person arrest at Rice-Cameron’s request and issued a citation for battery in response to Rice-Cameron’s allegations that she “shoved him in the chest with her hand during a verbal disagreement.” Larson added that there was no obvious physical injury to either party involved, and that Rice-Cameron declined to be evaluated by paramedics. Moving forward, the District Attorney’s Office will review the case and decide upon any further action.
A leaked message from Rice-Cameron to 76 SCR members confirmed that he filed a police report and is pressing “full charges” against the woman.
When approached by The Daily at the scene, Rice-Cameron refused to comment on the issue. In a subsequent statement to The Daily, Rice-Cameron said, “She got in my face and proceeded to hit me in the chest area and push me back forcefully.”
“Nobody should be assaulted on campus, under any circumstances,” he added.
A post on SCR’s Facebook page held that the altercation was an assault, and that the organization “experienced the violent and totalitarian behavior of the unhinged Stanford left” today.
Hernandez claims she merely touched Rice-Cameron on the chest after he refused to stop video recording her without her consent. Rice-Cameron did not call police in her presence, she added.
“This is clearly an exertion of power and privilege by [SCR],” Hernandez wrote in a public Facebook post. “Those who know my character, from a distance or up close, know my fight in social justice lies in peace.”
An anonymous eyewitness to the event recalled her as being “angry [and] upset,” and described her demeanor toward Rice-Cameron as combative.
“She kept getting in his face, louder and louder — she walked straight towards him and invaded his personal space and definitely put her hands on him,” he said.
Another witness, a member of SCR who also declined to be named, described the contact as a push, but not a “hard push,” given that Rice-Cameron wasn’t shoved to the ground.
According to Bryce Tuttle ’20, SCR members continued to videotape individuals who approached the table despite their requests to the contrary, claiming that it is legal to film people without their consent in public spaces such as White Plaza. Video footage leaked to The Daily by an SCR member confirms Tuttle’s eyewitness account.
In other leaked videos, Annie Zheng ’20 is shown approaching the table, tearing off two event signs and running away toward Tresidder Memorial Union. In response to this event, SCR member Annika Nordquist ’21 is captured on film describing Zheng as a “cold-ass bitch.”
The Daily has reached out to Nordquist for comment.
Jim Wheaton, Senior Counsel at the First Amendment Project and a Stanford expert in media law, told The Daily that “video and photographic recording are permitted in public spaces, and generally one has the right to record with video or photo anything that can be seen with the unaided eye if you have a right to be in that space.”
White Plaza, where the SCR event was held, is considered a “free speech area” by the University. Tabling by student groups for informational purposes requires no prior approval as per Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) policy.
Under California law, audio recordings are subject to different standards of consent than video recordings. Namely, Wheaton cited a state law that requires consent from all persons recorded in a “confidential conversation,” which does not necessarily need to occur in a private setting to be classified as such.
Wheaton noted that exceptions exist — including public speech, public meetings or arguments loud enough that participants “cannot claim they thought it was confined to” those involved — but said that, based on his understanding of the circumstances, SCR would have the right to “record the video, but not the audio, without permission.”
“Recording a conversation — even [one] in a public space — is a violation of law in California,” he concluded.
Larson told The Daily that the Department of Public Safety “did not receive any reports from persons who said they were recorded and had asked that it stop,” although video footage reveals that such an interaction did take place.
Thursday’s incident comes nearly one year after SCR members alleged they were involved in another physical altercation, after being followed by individuals in masks and hoodies at a November 2017 event featuring controversial speaker Robert Spencer. Multiple other witnesses present at last year’s incident said that the altercation was not physical.
In a statement to The Daily, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda said, “Student Affairs has reached out and is offering support, information and resources to all parties involved in this incident.”
ASSU President Shanta Katipamula ’19, ASSU Vice President Rosie Nelson and ASSU Director of Academic Freedom wrote in a statement to The Daily that they are working with senior University administrators to “better promote the productive exchange of ideas within our community while supporting all members of our community, especially those who have been adversely affected by recent events locally and nationally.”
“While provocation for its own sake may be considered legally protected speech, we hope that ASSU-funded groups will aspire to a higher standard in their interactions with other members of the community,” they wrote. “We recognize and validate the harm that the rhetoric used at this event has caused members of our community. We encourage students to practice self-care and seek help from campus resources such as the Confidential Support Team if necessary.”
Stanford Democrats president Gabe Rosen ’19 told The Daily that Stanford Democrats is “deeply concerned” that the police were called.
“This just adds to our suspicion that [‘Change My Mind’ events, such as the one in White Plaza] are not conducive to civil debate,” Rosen wrote.
This report has been updated to include comments from University officials, Public Safety and SCR President John Rice-Cameron. It has also been updated to include Ms. Hernandez’s name.
This report has been updated to include SCR’s statement on Facebook as well as a statement from the ASSU executives. It has also been updated to identify the woman who removed SCR’s event signs as Annie Zheng ’20 and to clarify a quote from an unnamed SCR member.
This report has been updated to include Ms. Hernandez’s statement on Facebook.
Karen Kurosawa, Elena Shao and Erin Woo contributed reporting.