HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) – At 7:35 p.m. on April 15, Hilbert College campus safety guards took a call from a mother who was frantic over a rumor that a student with a history of outbursts on campus might have a gun.
What the mother did not know at the time was that campus safety a month-and-a-half earlier had confiscated an illegal martial arts star from the student’s dorm room.
“I told security that we didn’t know if it was a joke or not, but I wasn’t gonna take that chance,” said the mother who reported the gun rumor.
No one ever witnessed the student, Breandan Mantz, with a gun and no weapon was found that night.
But had there been a gun, the response by campus safety officials at the small, private college in Hamburg, NY, would have been inadequate to deal with the threat. How college officials handled the incident resulted in protests by students, who demanded more transparency about potential threats on campus in a country beset by gun violence.
“Our policies and procedures were followed,” said Hilbert College President Cynthia Zane.
But News 4 Investigates has found that the way in which campus safety officials handled the situation, and others involving Mantz, raises serious questions about the college’s policies and procedures and whether they have always been followed.
For example, the policies and procedures manual for campus safety states that outside assistance should be contacted if there is the possibility for conflict. Instead, a campus safety supervisor directed unarmed guards to search Mantz’s room, and later his backpack.
The Hamburg Police Department did not find out about the incident until the following night, when six more students filed similar complaints with the college.
“They should have called the Hamburg Police Department immediately or the sheriff’s department,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.
In addition, the policies and procedures manual states that Hamburg police should be contacted “in the event of a serious incident or occurrence of a crime.” But college officials did not contact the police on Feb. 28 when the illegal martial arts throwing star was confiscated from Mantz’s room. In fact, the police did not find out about the weapon until April 18.
These incidents are just two of more than a dozen that involved Mantz on campus, News 4 Investigates has learned from college incident reports and internal emails obtained from an anonymous source who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal.
While the documents show that Mantz never physically harmed anyone, a series of events beginning in October 2017 kept him in the crosshairs of campus safety.
Mantz’s mother, Trevia Mantz, said college officials failed to de-escalate the friction and animosity between students and her son, who has autism.
“It could have been prevented,” she said. “If Breandan was such a problem last semester, they had an opportunity to say over the break that he couldn’t come back for the start of the new semester.”
On April 20, authorities charged Mantz, 19, with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree and one count of menacing in the second degree. He is accused of possessing the martial arts star from back in February and threatening a student with a knife, according to the District Attorney’s office.
As a result, Mantz is suspended from Hilbert College.
In light of the recent incidents and after inquiries from News 4 Investigate, the president said she has already made some changes, including improving communication between the college, police and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
“Now, in retrospect, were there some things that we’ve learned after the fact, are there some issues that we probably need to address in terms of communication, are we going to take a look at our policies and procedures? “Yes,” Zane said.
Outcast at college
The Mantzs chose Hilbert College because it’s a small, Catholic school outside the city limits. They thought the environment there would be more compassionate than some other colleges on their list.
Trevia Mantz said she made administrators aware of her son’s autism, a neurological disorder often characterized by difficulties with communication and social interaction that can affect day-to-day living.
The details about what happened come from campus incident reports and internal college emails provided to WIVB, as well as through interviews with Mantz’s mother. Students and parents mentioned in the incident reports are not named due to privacy concerns.
Photographs of Breandan Mantz on campus this past fall portray him as excited and happy, flashing an occasional peace sign and a warm smile below his blue-gray eyes.
But his college life was neither kind nor peaceful for him. His mother said her son felt isolated and depressed at times, an outcast from the get-go.
“It’s been a living heck,” Mantz told WIVB after being released from jail on April 20.
By Oct. 14, Mantz had been suspended from the cross country team “for language and comments” directed at teammates and the coach, according to an email that Hilbert’s Director of Campus Safety Vito Czyz sent to college administrators. The college issued a no-contact order between Mantz and a teammate he allegedly threatened to drown, one of two no-contact orders that college officials issued against him by November.
“That is when [college officials] could have stepped in and made an effort to put an end to everything that was happening and they did not do so,” said Trevia Mantz.
From then on, Mantz’s experiences on campus began to spiral out of control. His mother said he was “bullied mercilessly.”
Students filed reports with campus safety leveling a series of accusations against Mantz in both semesters. They include complaints of alleged name calling, arguments and threats. One accused Mantz of discussing where he could buy weapons near McKinley Mall. Another student accused him of “bragging that he has some type of gel he can light on fire.” Months later the same student would notify campus security for being “fearful of a violent retaliation.”
One student called campus security with a concern that Mantz might harm himself after he allegedly said that he “deserves to die” and was “ruining people’s lives.”
Hilbert’s Campus Safety Policies and Procedures manual state that the Town of Hamburg police should be notified immediately if “a person, through conduct, word, action or deeds, appears to be mentally ill and is conducting himself or herself in a manner which is likely to result in serious harm to himself or others.”
Instead, campus safety officials notified the Director of the Counseling Center Phyllis Dewey and Dean of Students Jim Sturm, who determined that Mantz was not in danger of harming himself.
Mantz also filed reports with campus safety, including a possible theft of his $100 jeans from the laundry room, vandalism of his bike and nearly being struck by a car driven by a fellow student. These events frustrated Mantz, incident reports show. Sometimes, Mantz posted his frustrations on his Facebook page.
“I just post what I feel … what I am going through,” he said.
“So, then others know, ‘Hey, this person’s dealing with some stuff, so then they kind of can understand and have some compassion for me.”
Mantz indicated that one student did befriend him and took him to McKinley Mall for his birthday in January. That’s when Mantz said he bought the throwing star.
Throwing star incident
Mantz is a fan of Japanese culture and its popular Anime animations, some of which depict ninjas and samurais as the chief characters. Throwing stars are a common weapon of choice.
On Feb. 28, campus safety visited Mantz’s dorm room responding to a report that he was “acting out” over stolen property. Upon arrival, the campus safety guards found Mantz yelling and not making any sense.
“At this point, Breandan became extremely irritated and stated that since we were not going to do anything he would take matters into his own hands” by going door to door looking for a suspect, the incident report states.
A student dorm room supervisor informed campus safety that various students had gotten threatening messages from Mantz. Those students told the campus safety officer that Mantz has “blown up” multiple times.
“They also told (campus safety) they were fearful he had weapons in his room,” the incident report states.
Joseph LaRosa, Hilbert’s assistant director of campus safety who also serves as a police officer for the Town of Evans, inquired if Mantz had any weapons.
Mantz handed over the throwing star. LaRosa told Mantz it was illegal to have and confiscated the weapon.
“The fact that they thought it was a weapon was shocking to me,” Mantz said. “In fact, I thought I could have it because I got it at McKinley Mall.”
Czyz, Hilbert’s director of Campus Safety, emailed administrators about Mantz on March 14, stating that, “Hamburg PD is now aware of the history and incidents we have been dealing with since October 2017.” He states that an officer from the Hamburg Police Department spoke with Mantz and “put him on notice” of what will happen if he “crossed the line into further threatening behavior.”
But District Attorney Flynn has since disputed how Czyz characterized the discussions in his email.
“On March 14, Hilbert Security contacted the Hamburg Police Department, but only asked police to speak with Mantz about dangers of harassing students,” the spokeswoman for District Attorney Flynn confirmed by email.
“Hilbert Security did not tell Hamburg PD about the weapon they found on February 28 or Mantz’s history. “
The Campus Safety policies and procedure manual states that the Hamburg Police Department should be contacted for all serious incidents and crimes. But Hamburg police said they did not find out about the confiscated throwing star until April 18, three days after the rumor alleging Mantz might be in the possession of a gun.
Czyz declined to comment, but the college’s president said changes are underway.
“In retrospect, I believe that we could have contacted the Hamburg Police Department earlier and the DA’s office earlier,” said Zane, the college’s president.
“I have had that conversation with District Attorney Flynn, we have identified several options in order for us to fix it.”
A month-and-a-half after campus safety confiscated the throwing star, Mantz again found himself in their crosshairs.
Mantz subject of a rumor
Mantz’s mother said her son has never owned a gun. She wouldn’t even allow him to own toy guns.
So, it came as quite a shock when she found out that a rumor had circulated on campus that her son might be in possession of one.
On the evening of April 15, a student’s mother called campus safety to report that her daughter had been hearing rumors that Mantz had a gun. Her name is being withheld at her request to protect her daughter’s identity.
With gun violence plaguing all corners of this country, including at college campuses and elementary schools, the mother said she was not willing to take any risk.
The college incident report shows that LaRosa, Hilbert’s part-time assistant director of campus safety, directed two unarmed campus safety guards, joined by a student dorm room supervisor and the assistant director of residence lifeto search the Mantz’s room.
The college security force is not armed but is in charge of responding to calls on campus.
Mantz was not present and the search turned up no weapons.
Once Mantz did return to his dorm room, LaRosa directed the two campus safety guards, one of whom is a recent high school graduate, to go back to “check his back pack for a possible weapon,” according to the incident report.
Mantz ran as soon as he saw campus safety, but he later met with guards at the safety center with his mother.
Paul McCauley, a certified police trainer and professor emeritus at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, found it particularly concerning that Campus Safety officials would send back four unarmed individuals to confront Mantz to search his backpack for a weapon.
“Worst case scenario is he has a gun and he is going to shoot you,” he said.
“I think it’s reckless to go approach a person who has a history or a potential history of escalated misconduct, to send unarmed security and resident assistants in to check a backpack. The big question is what do they do if they found a gun?”
Neither Czyz, the director of campus safety, nor LaRosa, drove to campus that evening to assist. All orders were directed by phone and LaRosa was on duty for the Town of Evans Police Department that night, WIVB confirmed.
Although policy and procedures for campus call for contacting outside assistance if “there is a possibility for conflict or intervention,” Czyz deemed “that no police action or issuance of campus alerts was deemed necessary,” according to an April 16 email.
Zane, the college’s president, refused to answer specific questions about the incident, including why the two chief college safety officials never came to campus that evening or why the Hamburg police did not get called in to assist.
“I can’t answer hypotheticals,” she said.
“There is no gun. There was no gun. Everyone is safe.”
On April 23, under the backdrop of protesting students, college administrators announced a new policy that requires notifying students, faculty and staff of perceived threats. The college also agreed to “work collaboratively with the Town of Hamburg Police Department” and forge a relationship with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
Trevia Mantz said these incidents, and how the college handled them, have had a profound impact on her son.
“Everyone else is fine. He’s not fine. I’m going to have to take him home and do who knows how much therapy and services for him because now he doesn’t want to go back to school.”