Homeless veteran turned student booted from Florida campus


NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (AP) – Florida college officials are investigating allegations that a homeless U.S. Army veteran and a student at the school was kicked off campus by security officers because of his appearance.

The Tampa Tribune reported Saturday that 41-year-old Jose Antonio Hernandez filed a grievance about his treatment on the campus of Pasco-Hernando State College in New Port Richey.

Hernandez said in his complaint that he was attending classes when he was approached by three campus security officers Monday. The three officers detained him for several minutes while they asked for his student and state identification card.

Officers also confiscated a 4-inch pocketknife he was carrying, he said, and told him to leave the campus “immediately.”

An incident report stated that a campus employee called security to report “a man with a back-pack and sleeping bag that was loitering at the gazebo next to Building ‘B’ looking in the trash can and for cigarettes.”

In the report, Officer David Housel says that when Hernandez was asked whether he needed help, “he became agitated” and initially refused to show his student identification. Housel wrote that he also was concerned about Hernandez’s “partially concealed” knife.

Officers maintain that Hernandez also began swearing and complained about discrimination.

Hernandez, who was an Army Reserve platoon leader in Iraq, told the Tampa Tribune that the incident report was “full of lies.” He said that when he was about to leave he was told ‘You can’t blame us, look at the way you look.’ This is when I first became agitated.”

Lucy Miller, a college spokeswoman, said in a statement to the Tribune that Hernandez “is not being disciplined. We are following appropriate protocol for handling student grievances and he has been invited to meet with us regarding his concerns.”

The Tribune verified that Hernandez spent time in the Army, including a deployment in Iraq. He told the newspaper that two men in his unit were killed and that they came under fire constantly. Hernandez said he sought treatment after he returned but that “it didn’t go very well.” He eventually turned to alcohol and drugs and divorced his wife and left his family.

He moved to Tampa and tried to go to school at the University of South Florida but he told the newspaper that he panicked in class and that the university’s large population of Arab students “wore on me day after day.” Eventually he was homeless and suicidal. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital then released to a transitional housing program in New Port Richey.

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