UTC surveillance suspect named in earlier cases

UTC surveillance suspect named in earlier cases

March 26th, 2011 by Perla Trevizo in News

Bernard Morris.

The name of the UTC student charged this week with putting surveillance equipment inside several campus apartments came up several months ago in similar incidents, according to university documents.

On Oct. 28, 2010, and later in November, a campus officer responded to a complaint from a student who said he came back to his apartment in UTC's Guerry building to find a chest of drawers had been moved, his headboard was leaning forward and a Walmart bag full of women's underwear under his bed, school documents show.

According to the student, Bernard Morris, at that time a resident assistant at Guerry, and the resident director were the only ones who had keys to his room.

The student said nothing was stolen either time and he just wanted the information to be on the record, so he didn't push for prosecution, according to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga spokeswoman Cindy Carroll.

Morris, 23, was arrested by UTC police Monday. He is accused of breaking into and planting surveillance equipment in three campus apartments in Guerry and the Stophel buildings south of McCallie Avenue.

A UTC student since 2009, he initially was charged with 13 counts of aggravated burglary and one count of arson, but another burglary charge was filed against him Tuesday related to keys burglarized from a UTC housing office and two misdemeanor charges for theft under $500 in connection with the theft of a clock radio and the keys in the housing office, Carroll said.

His bond initially was set at $110,000, but with the new charges, it was increased to $310,000 - $100,000 for the burglary and $50,000 for each theft charge. As of Friday afternoon, he remained in custody in Hamilton County Jail. His court date was moved up to Monday before General Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck.

The arson charge is related to a Feb. 27 incident on the UTC campus in which campus police accuse Morris of throwing a smoke bomb into the third-floor trash chute at Stophel.

Carroll said Morris was initially interviewed as a person of interest in the smoke-bomb case, but there wasn't enough evidence at the time to prosecute him. She said she couldn't comment on what evidence was produced a month later, saying it's an ongoing investigation and the school wants to "preserve the evidence for prosecution."

Since 2006, Morris has pleaded guilty to felony counts of aggravated burglary and arson and misdemeanor counts of harassment and stalking. All the charges - which cover three different cases - involved young girls, including one who was a student at Ooltewah High School at the same time that Morris was a student there.

Since the UTC incident was reported, school administrators have spoken to about 10 parents and housing administrators and 15 to 20 students to discuss their concerns about the cases as well as other possible incidents, she said.

John Delaney, vice chancellor for student development at UTC, said that starting this fall, all resident assistant applicants had to go through a background check.

Carroll added that the school will start conducting background checks on all 72 resident assistants currently in the university.

Separate from the criminal investigation, there will be a student conduct judicial review by the university to determine whether Morris will be allowed to remain a student at the school, according to a news release. Carroll said she couldn't comment on its progress due to student privacy issues.

Morris' access to campus has been restricted at this time, pending the outcome of the judicial review.