Murder, sexual and aggravated assaults, thefts and burglaries are crimes that typically happen in bad parts of town and are not what people would expect at student housing.
The Cambridge and Varsity Place Apartments have been in the news recently for all of these crimes. In the months of August and September, both The Cambridge Apartments on Old Omen Road and Varsity Place Apartments on Varsity Drive, have had over 20 incidents within their gates. Many of these crimes involved both Tyler Junior College and University of Texas at Tyler students. On Friday, Oct. 19, at Varsity Place Apartments, officers responded to a call from 19-year-old TJC student Bradley Jackson.
Jackson told the officers he believed he was being robbed by another man, 19-year-old Sirbrycelon Shelton, who is not a TJC student or resident at Varsity Place. Shelton was reportedly armed with a handgun standing at the doorway of Jackson’s apartment.
Jackson then pulled out his own handgun and shot Shelton. That’s when Shelton fled to building 21 of the apartment complex leaving a trail of blood. The police searched for Shelton but could not find him in that building. He was later found at Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview.
After receiving treatment for his injuries, Shelton was taken to Smith County jail on Oct. 28.
Investigators also found narcotics at the scene of the incident and believe those narcotics may have played a role in the shooting. At this time, there have been no charges filed against Jackson.
Earlier that week on Oct. 16, Tyler Police went to a local emergency room to speak with 21-year-old Dearis Davis. Davis, who is a TJC student, told officers that earlier that morning he had heard a knock at his door.
Davis opened the door to find three men in masks standing in the doorway. The three men forced their way into his apartment and held him at gunpoint demanding cash. The men with firearms struck Davis several times in the face and head that resulted in serious bodily injury. The men then went into his roommate’s room and forced him and his girlfriend into the bathroom during the robbery. The three men stole an unknown amount of cash and then fled the apartments on foot.
These events have many residents at Varsity Place rethinking their stay.
“I’m trying to get out of Varsity simply because I don’t feel safe,” said Nykole Bryant, Varsity Place resident. “They won’t allow me to break my lease, but I’m leaving anyway…I just want to get away from there.”
The Apache Pow Wow as well as MyTJCNews.com attempted to contact Varsity Place Apartments, but each time they were directed to Varsity’s corporate office, which never returned the calls.
But they did get in contact with a former employee, Logan Stephens, who worked as a leasing consultant with Varsity Place Apartments.
“My reaction to recent crime was that I wasn’t surprised or blown away…It wasn’t anything different from when I was a resident and employee to have an act of violence not to mention again, what was said was not reported,” Stephens said.
The Apache Pow Wow filed an open records request with the Tyler Police Department for the two apartments and received more than 600 pages of police reports that spanned over the last three years. These records from Tyler PD on student apartments show that the Oct. 19 shooting is not an isolated incident.
These police reports showed many auto burglaries, thefts, residential thefts and robberies. There were also aggravated and sexual assaults and one homicide from November of 2011 and another in 2009.
“The crime rate varied. There was all kinds of petty mischief going on. There were occasions where there were more serious events like break-ins, theft and vandalism,” Stephens said. “Most of the time, the perpetrator got away because there was no proof as to who did it.”
These incidences have caused Tyler PD to increase security at the mostly student apartments.
Along with these recent incidences, sexual assaults have been a problem. Over the past three years, The Cambridge and Varsity Place have had five reported sexual assaults total. In most of these sexual assaults, the victims were young women who attend TJC and UT Tyler. One of the larger problems was that the females at both apartments did not press charges against the men who they said had assaulted them. This allowed the suspects to stay in the same town or apartment complex, risking other residents.
“All the students that we get are ones that actually signed up to live on campus…Ya’lls dorms fill up very quickly,” Belida Gill, general manager at The Cambridge Apartments, said.
Both TJC and UT Tyler students at both The Cambridge and Varsity Place have students that are on the waiting list for the on-campus dorms.
“Well, we have very limited housing for residents here on campus. We only have 1,035 beds we can fill. Our current residents get priority because they’re living with us…We were able to place four or five hundred new students,” said Diana Karol, director of Auxiliary Services at TJC. “We are not affiliated with any complexes in Tyler. And we do not refer students to apartment complexes.”
When students apply for any type of housing at either The Cambridge or Varsity Place, residents-to-be have to go through a series of evaluations in order to reside in either apartment.
“Each resident over the age of 18 is required for a background check. And the background check also includes credit checks,” Gill, said. “If they have a felony, they are not allowed to live in our apartments. Even if they have a misdemeanor they are not allowed to live here on property.”
Although the background checks may come up clear, it doesn’t mean that the resident does not have a criminal history. The resident could have some type of criminal history from when they were a minor. And because at the time they were a minor, the state cannot release that type of information.
Students who fill out a lease form to live at these apartments also fill out a resident profile sheet for roommates if needed. The forms ask for basic information like name, age, school, hometown, likes and dislikes and any other personal considerations.
Leasing contracts end on May 31, Aug. 8, and Dec. 31. Once the contract is signed to rent the apartment, the residents must stay the duration. Breaking the lease is not allowed. The only way a student can be released from the agreement is if the student has a military deployment and the student must provide a 30-day notice before being deployed. The second way is if the student is transferring to a sister property and there is a list of those on the Cambridge Apartments website. Finally a student can decide to sublease, and some do.
“The sublease is a person who has to come into the office and go through the approval process that you went through when you signed your lease agreement,” Gill said. “Once that person is approved with a cosigner, it releases you from your lease agreement and that person and their cosigner will stay the further remainder of your contract.”
With more security at both complexes, management is hoping that this will cut down on the crime rate.
“We have officers here seven days a week. They are here from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and it is their primary responsibility to see if any residents come in, and though they have their sticker they’re still required to show their I.D. in order to get in,” Gill said.
She encourages all students to call for help if they feel that they are in danger.
“We’re only a phone call away. I’m on call 24/7, and we also have a 24-hour answering service,” Gill said.
When looking for housing, students can look up crimes that have happened in off-campus housing. Tyler PD’s website has a link to the calls for service over the past year at every apartment complex in the city of Tyler. The apartments themselves are not required to give crime stats to potential residents. So residents-to-be are encouraged to do their own research at tylerpolice.com.
When students are looking to live on-campus, The Clery Act comes in. This act only applies to on-campus property in which if there is ever any type of crime no matter how small, the school must document it.
This act was mandated in 2008, and is a federal requirement to all institutions of higher education to disclose information about crime on their campuses and in the surrounding communities.
Every institution must collect, classify and count crime statistics, issue campus alerts and publish an annual security report.
Residents at Charleston Park and around the area are concerned for their neighborhood and are hoping for the situations to get better. One of the residents suggested an idea.
“Maybe some of the good kids from the apartments can form a group and show the people of the neighborhood that they’re concerned…organize on a Saturday and go clean up the trash,” Scott Moss, resident of Charleston Park, said.
With the criminal acts in this area, students may have noticed security increase at both The Cambridge and Varsity Place Apartments.
“We have more security in Cambridge and in Varsity with 24/7 surveillance around these apartments due to the recent events that have occurred this month,” said Don Martin, public information officer for Tyler PD.
The consistent crime and violence at both complexes have Tylerites calling for action.