A University of North Georgia student plans to appeal a two-semester suspension that came after a school investigation into a photo the student allegedly took and posted on social media of a Corps of Cadets instructor’s buttocks in November.
Dante Jamal Harris, the student in the cadet program accused of taking and posting the photo, according to warrants, could not be reached for comment Monday night. Jeffrey Wolff, his attorney in criminal charges against Harris, and Amber Massey, who has known Harris since his senior year in high school and says Harris refers to her as his “mom,” both confirmed Monday that Harris plans to appeal the suspension.
Harris had five days after the April 19 hearing to appeal the suspension under university policy, according to UNG spokeswoman Kate Maine.
“This situation falls under the university’s sexual misconduct policy. The process is outlined in that document,” Maine said in a statement. “In this case, appeals, if made, would go to the provost/senior vice president for academic affairs and then the president. The process is the same, regardless of the victim’s status as an instructor.
“Because the process is ongoing and because this case involves a student’s private disciplinary records, the university is unable to comment on the details of the case,” the statement continued. “However, the university has conducted a comprehensive and fair Title IX investigation into this matter, and the investigators and a review panel have issued disciplinary recommendations.”
Harris was arrested by Lumpkin County Sheriff’s deputies in December on a misdemeanor charge of transmission of photography depicting nudity and a felony charge of unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance. He was released on $7,500 bond.
Harris is accused of taking a photo of the victim’s buttocks exposed and then posting the photo to a social media site. The victim was named in warrants at Richard Neikirk, who was listed as the assistant commandant on the UNG Corps of Cadets commandant staff. The warrant stated the victim was “in a private place and out of public view.” The incident allegedly occurred while the victim was using the restroom.
Wolffe said Harris’ criminal case is still in the pretrial stage. He has not yet been indicted and no trial date has been set.
“He’s not guilty of the charges,” Wolff said. “I think it is a real miscarriage of justice here.”
State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, was the author and lead sponsor of legislation that created the misdemeanor charge for posting a photo of someone’s private areas without their consent.
“The reason it came about was people who had consensual-type relationships and then were estranged, divorced, broken up and were using photographs they had taken consensually to cause the person harm and they were sending them out and posting them on the internet,” Tanner said. “There wasn’t anything in the current law that could be done.”
Tanner said the law was originally written as a felony, but then was taken down to a misdemeanor in the course of the committee process.
“We felt like there would be times when a young person did something that they would regret, and we did not want them to have a felony on their record for the rest of their life,” he said.
Tanner added that based on what he knows about the case, the charge appears to fit the new law.
“If a person took a picture of someone’s private area, the bill defines nudity as buttocks and other private areas, and if they used that to send it electronically without that person’s consent, then I do think this would a misdemeanor under this law,” he said. “Then, if someone else transmitted or posted it, they would also be charged.”