UTC student facing 14 felony charges

UTC student facing 14 felony charges

March 23rd, 2011 by Perla Trevizo in News

Bernard Morris.

Bernard Morris.

A UTC student arrested Monday on 14 felony charges was a resident assistant at the school last year and has a history of harassing and stalking girls, according to court documents.

Bernard Morris, 23, was arrested by UTC police Monday and is accused of breaking into and planting surveillance equipment in three campus apartments in Guerry and in the Stophel buildings, located south of McCallie Avenue. He is charged with 13 counts of aggravated burglary and one count of arson.

His bond was set at $110,000 - $7,500 for each aggravated burglary offense and $12,500 for the arson charge, which is related to a Feb. 27 incident on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus in which campus police accuse Morris of throwing a smoke bomb into the third-floor trash chute of the Stophel Building.

As of Tuesday afternoon he was still in jail. He court appearance is set for April 5 at the General Sessions Court before Judge David Bales.

Since 2006, he has pleaded guilty to felony counts of aggravated burglary and arson, misdemeanor counts of harassment and stalking. All the charges - which cover three different cases - involved young girls.

At one point in 2007, authorities described Morris as "a danger to the community at large and has through past history and his present case shown himself incapable of operating within society as a law abiding citizen," according to court records.

The UTC charges came after students who live in Guerry returned last week from spring break and noticed there were items in their apartments that did not belong to them, UTC officials said. The students reported the situation to their resident assistants who, in turn, reported it to campus police.

Police determined the items housed surveillance cameras, officials said.

John Delane, vice chancellor for student development at UTC, said the university doesn't conduct a background check on any student, including those applying for leadership positions such as resident assistants. But the housing office is reviewing the procedures, from hiring practices to having access to the buildings, he said.

"From this point forward we will conduct background checks for students applying to be RAs," he said.

This is a very "odd" situation that hasn't happened before, Delane added.

"We are following up with the students to make sure they have access to the resources they need," he said. "We understand their concerns and issues and want to reinforce the message that we are taking it very seriously."

Past crimes

On Saturday evening, a student called her mother to tell her she had found a piece of Styrofoam on her bed in Guerry and a new alarm clock on her night stand. The student's laptop computer and television were left untouched, said the mother, who requested to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her daughter.

The student talked to her resident assistant, who said there was an identical alarm clock in her room as well.

The mother of the student said the surveillance cameras were found inside the clocks, but UTC spokeswoman Cindy Carroll, would only confirm alarm clocks were involved.

Morris was a resident assistant during fall 2010, but Carroll didn't know for what building. He has been a UTC student since 2009 and was living in either Guerry or Stophel when he was arrested.

Since at least 2004, there have been multiple reports of Morris harassing young women and for burning at least one home.

On Jan. 26, 2007, a house in Ooltewah burned, killing the family dog. A few months later, a teenage girl in the house received a message on her MySpace page that said "i don't think what happen (sic) to your house or dog was an accident i just hope nothing happen to your new house in Ooltewah."

According to court records, the family said they were sure that details about neither the fire nor the dog's death had been released.

The mother worked at Ooltewah High School, where her daughter and Morris went to school, and both said they knew him, but had no personal contact with him.

He was charged with harassment in connection with the MySpace message and his bond was set at $1 million. He also was ordered not to have contact with the mother or daughter again.

In February 2007, Morris was charged with harassing a 16-year-old for about a month. According to court records, he would send her sexual text messages, including, "u scared me because u almost woke up last night on me," and "would you be mad if i got u pregnant."

According to the victim, Morris had contacted her via MySpace on several occasions saying he wanted to date her, but she said refused and at one point called him a "psycho," court records show.

For both cases, Morris pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor harassment and one count of misdemeanor stalking, court records show. He was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days in Silverdale Detention Center.

In 2006, he was charged with arson and aggravated burglary for breaking into a house on Prospect Church Road and setting it on fire. A girl's room was ransacked in the house and the family reported that something similar had happened to them in 2004.

He pleaded guilty to felony counts of burglary and arson and was still serving probation on a six-year suspended sentence when he was arrested this week for the UTC incidents, court records show.

Emily Tipton, 18, who lives in Guerry, said Morris' actions are a "huge violation of privacy."

Students need their school swipe cards to get into the building, along with two separate keys, one for the front door to their apartment and another for their bedroom.

Greg Hopkins, 19, who lives in Stophel, said Tuesday morning that all the girls were going through their rooms, making sure there weren't any strange items.

"It makes me feel good he has been caught," he said, adding that there have been many reports of items being stolen in the school housing.

The mother of the UTC student who spoke on condition of anonymity said she's been satisfied with the university's response after learning about the incident, but feels they could have done more to prevent it.

"I understand you can't protect everyone from everything," she said. "[But] you got all of these [security] things in place but they all failed."

A comment on the Times Free Press website mentioned that Morris' mother worked at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale. Ingrid Skantz, director for marketing and university relations at Southern Adventist University, confirmed that psychology professor Ruth WilliamsMorris has a son named Bernard.

But when WilliamsMorris was reached by phone, she said she didn't have a son by that name.

Staff writer Adam Crisp contributed to this story.