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Jim Kenyon: Hanover Police Play NSA on Underage Drinking

The war — it’s gone beyond a mere obsession — on underage drinkers has reached a new level of absurdity in Hanover. Last week, Joe Asch, the Dartmouth alum who writes the popular Dartblog, broke a story that makes me wonder whether the NSA has opened a surveillance office in town.

After reading Asch’s blog, I picked up a copy of the Hanover police report, which is public record, that gave details of the incident. It’s worse than I had imagined. The college’s security officers and some other employees have effectively become agents of the Hanover police.

Here’s what happened, as I pieced it together from the police report and interviews:

On Feb. 27, a Dartmouth student was having dinner with a friend at Molly’s Restaurant on South Main Street. Ruth Kett happened to be sitting nearby.

Kett, the administrative coordinator for the department that oversees fraternities and sororities at Dartmouth, recognized the student and observed that he was drinking from a martini glass. She was sure that he wasn’t 21. So sure that she called Hanover police. By the time officer Matthew Ufford arrived at the restaurant, the student, Noah Reisman, of Port Washington, N.Y., had left.

But Kett was still there. “I believe there was an underage student drinking in here,” she told Ufford. Last week, when I stopped by her office, Kett told me that she recognized Reisman as a student in a bartending class that she had taught. (The class didn’t practice mixing drinks with real liquor, but maybe there’s a mixed message in here somewhere.)

At the restaurant, police confirmed that a Molly’s waiter had checked Reisman’s ID before serving him four drinks during a two-hour dinner. But police had a problem: How could they quickly find out if Reisman was truly under 21?

Kett came to the rescue. In her job, she has access to some personal information, including date of birth, that students give the college. At the request of police, Kett looked up Reisman’s date of birth in the college’s database on her smartphone, she told me. According to the college records that Kett was able to tap into, Reisman was only 18.

The manhunt was on.

Hanover police invited Dartmouth security officers, who were only too eager to help, to join their posse. A security officer, accompanied by Ufford, knocked on Reisman’s dorm door. When no one answered, the security officer entered the room. Ufford waited in the hall — a neat trick so Hanover cops couldn’t be accused of violating the Fourth Amendment by entering the dorm room without a search warrant.

The room was vacant. The dragnet widened. At about 10:30 p.m., two Dartmouth security officers spotted the “suspect” near the library. Two Hanover cops were dispatched to the scene. Reisman acknowledged that he had been drinking, but denied using a fake ID, according to the police report.

Reisman was arrested on a charge of underage drinking. He agreed to spend the night at Dick’s House, the college infirmary, where the medical staff could keep an eye on him.

Two nurses did more than that. They kept an ear on him, too. At 3:30 a.m. or so, they heard Reisman talking on a phone. How were they able to eavesdrop? The rooms at Dick’s House are equipped with monitors. According to the police report, the nurses heard Reisman telling a friend that he had hidden the fake driver’s license in his underwear. The nurses called college security, which notified Hanover Police.

Three cops descended upon Dick’s House. (Will Hanover taxpayers ever catch on that the town has too many cops with not enough to do?)

Police were given a room inside Dick’s House to interrogate Reisman. Ufford informed Reisman that police would seek a search warrant to have him strip searched if he didn’t turn over the fake ID. Reisman complied, according to police.

He’s been charged with three misdemeanors. Norwich attorney George Ostler, who is representing Reisman, said his client wouldn’t talk with me because the case is still pending in Lebanon Circuit Court.

But Kett, the Dartmouth employee who called police, was kind enough to talk with me for a few minutes when I dropped by her office. I was curious: Has Dartmouth deputized its 3,000 employees to assist Hanover police with their efforts to corral underage drinkers? Has the college formed a neighborhood bar watch? If professors see underage students drinking at a restaurant (as Kett did) are they under orders to report it to police?

Kett assured me that she had acted on her own. “This was a personal thing,” she said. “It wasn’t part of my job.”

Justin Anderson, the college’s spokesman, also told me that employees are not required or encouraged to snitch (my word, not his) on students who may be drinking illegally. “It’s not part of the college’s culture to call police,” he said.

Anderson explained that Kett, who has worked at the college for eight years, has access to some personal information on students for “work-related reasons.” Not all employees, including himself, have that access, he said.

Federal law allows some information, such as name and age, to be released without a student’s permission, Anderson said. But was it appropriate for Kett to give police a student’s date of birth? Should college employees volunteer student information they acquire in a medical setting to the police? Was it appropriate to allow the student to be interrogated when police thought he needed to be in the infirmary as a precaution?

“Dartmouth is obviously aware of the situation and has been investigating the matter for some time to determine the underlying facts,” Anderson said.

Former Dartmouth President Jim Kim, a physician by training, recognized that arresting students was not the way to teach them to drink responsibly. He also believed that keeping students safe took priority over enforcing the letter of the law.

Since Kim’s departure in 2012, that’s apparently gone by the boards in Hanover. The posse is on the loose.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at Jim.Kenyon@valley.net.