Ex-UGA student's record ignored

ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite numerous brushes with the law during the past five years, a former University of Georgia student now accused of holding a Clemson University student against his will and beating him faced university discipline only once.

 

Gene Whitner Milner III, 23, is scheduled to appear Tuesday in Athens-Clarke Magistrate Court on charges he held and beat the 18-year-old Clemson student in the basement of the Chi Phi fraternity, 290 S. Lumpkin St.

Charged with false imprisonment, a felony, and misdemeanor battery, Milner has said he just happened to be in the area when the young man came running from the fraternity house about 3:20 a.m. Nov. 15 as a UGA police officer drove by.

Milner has faced Clarke County judges repeatedly in the past five years, including in April 2004 - four months before he began classes at UGA.

Milner was put on 18 months of probation for public intoxication, underage possession of alcohol, giving false information and possessing a fake ID card.

During the next 32 months, police accused Milner of furnishing alcohol to a minor, public intoxication, obstruction of a law enforcement officer and violating the Athens-Clarke noise ordinance, among other charges.

Police also charged Milner in connection with the death of Lewis Fish, a UGA student who died in a Russell Hall dormitory of a drug and alcohol overdose after partying at Milner's Riverhill Drive house. Investigators later cleared Milner of involvement, however.

But Milner has faced UGA disciplinary officers only once, according to records the university released under an Athens Banner-Herald open-records request, mainly because university officials didn't know about most of the arrests and citations.

Except for the Fish case, in which Milner was exonerated, the UGA Office of Judicial Programs never learned of any of the student's other charges, nor the four times police or court officials said he violated probation, UGA officials say.

Before 2006, UGA had no procedure for obtaining Athens-Clarke police reports when university students got arrested.

Since then, Athens-Clarke police routinely have turned over incident reports to UGA police, who notify the Office of Judicial Programs when a student is involved, according to Kimberly Ellis, the associate dean of students for judicial programs.

Even today, courts don't notify UGA officials when a student is accused of violating probation, according to Ellis. UGA doesn't always get reports when a student is cited for breaking a law but not arrested, Ellis wrote in a memo to Tom Jackson, UGA vice president for public affairs, after the Banner-Herald asked why Milner hadn't faced disciplinary proceedings more often.

When Milner did go through UGA disciplinary proceedings in the 2006-07 school year - for furnishing alcohol to minors at a party at his Riverhill Drive house - a university administrator at first ordered him suspended pending a hearing before a disciplinary panel.

In March 2007, however, a three-member judicial programs panel cleared Milner of violating UGA rules about alcohol-related misconduct, according to Milner's student disciplinary records, obtained under the open-records request.

Witnesses from the party said Milner had not served alcohol to minors, and in fact, had posted signs saying people under 21 would not be allowed to drink alcohol at his house.

The panel found Milner violated only a UGA rule against disorderly conduct. His punishment was to write a 1,000-word reflective essay about what he would do differently, given the chance.

In addition to now getting regular police reports from Athens-Clarke police, UGA has adopted other rules that make it harder for students to avoid UGA discipline for off-campus transgressions.

"The system has changed," Jackson said.

Under a policy UGA adopted in October 2008, UGA conduct rules apply to students as soon as they are admitted, not just when they start classes. Students also are subject to the conduct code when they temporarily leave school while still eligible to enroll - as Milner did more than once.

In addition, students are required to tell UGA officials of any arrests when they apply for admission or readmission to the university.

Milner has been enrolled off and on at UGA since fall 2004, but never left school for long enough to have to reapply for admission under the rules.

Under current standards, Milner would have faced UGA discipline for his first arrest in Clarke County - in April 2004, four months before his first classes.

A Clarke County judge gave Milner 18 months' probation for public intoxication, underage possession of alcohol, giving false information and possessing a fake ID card, but Milner suffered no consequences at UGA.

 

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