University of North Ga. suspends cadet for taking bathroom photo

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University of North Ga. suspends cadet for taking bathroom photo

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Dante Harris poses for a portrait during his senior year at Columbus High School in 2014. He was 20 when he photographed his instructor at a urinal in November.

The University of North Georgia decided Friday to suspend Dante Harris for the upcoming summer and fall semesters.

In November, Harris photographed Major Richard Neikirk, second in command of the university’s Army ROTC program, while Neikirk was at a urinal. Neikirk had pulled his shorts down below his buttocks, which were visible in the photo. Harris then sent the photo to three friends, who shared it widely on mass messaging platform GroupMe.

Harris, a 21-year-old junior, is attending the university on a $70,000 military scholarship that paid for his tuition, room, food, books and uniforms, and entitled him to National Guard weekend drill pay, the GI Bill, pay for attending Army basic and advanced training and Army ROTC contract pay. It is not yet clear if he will keep the scholarship.

The disciplinary panel’s decision cut in half the recommended suspension Harris faced prior to his appearance before the panel in a hearing on Wednesday.

“The panel opted to reduce the recommended sanctions because you had no prior disciplinary history and they have no reasonable belief that you will be involved in any similar incidents,” the panel wrote in a letter to Harris obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Before the incident, Harris was on track to graduate with a business degree and commission as an officer in the Georgia Army National Guard.

Harris was briefly homeless his senior year of high school before Amber Massey helped him find a home. Massey, a married mother of two with a nephew on Dante’s basketball team, said she felt called to help him. 

“It’s God’s plan. I’m just here,” she said.

She plans to appeal the university’s decision. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s just one year. We’re still screwed,” she said.

Amber Massey with Dante Harris. william.robinson@coxinc.com

Massey’s understanding is that if Harris does not enroll in the fall, he will forfeit the scholarship, and he could not afford to come back. The terms of the scholarship demand that if the scholarship is forfeited, Harris would either have to pay back the amount he’s received with interest or enlist in the National Guard.

“Unless I’m reading it wrong, it sounds better, but it’s not better,” she said of the panel’s decision to reduce the suspension. 

To transfer to another university, Harris would need a letter from his dean attesting that he was in good standing, he said. He would also need a new scholarship. 

In addition to the suspension, Harris is charged with unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance, a felony, and transmission of photography depicting nudity, a misdemeanor. He faces up to six years in prison and a fine of $51,000. After the charges are settled, the Georgia National Guard will decide if he will keep his commission, a spokesperson said.

Massey believes the suspension and pending felony make it impossible for him to transfer to another university. Harris and Niekirk have five days to appeal the decision or else it will be final, according to the letter.

Although Massey believed the panel was receptive and fair, she wants the next panel to include males and minorities, as only white women were involved in this decision, she said. She believes a male perspective is important to appreciate the norms of a male bathroom.

Massey said university officials are working with her to better understand the appeals process and terms of the scholarship.

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