PITTSBURGH (AP) — A student has been suspended from a western Pennsylvania university and faces criminal charges amid police claims that he was belligerent and spit on an officer called to a classroom because the student wore makeup that made him look like the Batman villain "The Joker."
Carlow University student Christian Smith, 21, spent four days in the Allegheny County Jail after police tried and failed to have him committed to a psychiatric unit and instead charged him with crimes stemming from the Sept. 27 police call to the campus.
"I just want to get back to school to get my education so I can finish this semester and graduate this year," Smith told reporters while accompanied by his attorney Thursday.
"This is clearly a First Amendment speech issue and he wasn't harming anybody nor was he harming himself," attorney Phil DiLucente said.
Smith and DiLucente said the student was planning to attend a comic book convention after a class that day, and didn't mean any harm.
According to a police complaint, several students were startled by Smith's appearance in the makeup and a black hooded sweatshirt and called 911. A gunman last year killed 12 people when he entered a Colorado movie theater during a Batman movie, while wearing Joker-like makeup.
Police contend that Smith used profanity and argued with police and that he claimed he was being targeted because he is black. They let him return to class but then reconsidered and returned to the classroom and asked him to remove the makeup, the police complaint said. Smith refused, and police removed him from class, then Smith spit on an officer and head-butted another, police said. Later, when police tried to have him committed to the psychiatric unit of a hospital, Smith allegedly said he felt like killing police — a claim DiLucente denied.
The attorney believes police erred in returning to the classroom to remove Smith after determining he wasn't a threat.
"After he went back to the classroom, they should have left him alone," DiLucente said.
Smith was released on $25,000 bond and has a preliminary hearing Oct. 23 on charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, terroristic threats and disorderly conduct.
Carlow officials refused to answer questions about the case, but issued a statement saying the school is "confident in the actions of university police in protecting the rights and privileges of the student involved and ensuring the safety of its students and the campus community."