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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Security procedures at appearances by guest speakers will see a slight change after two UF students were arrested at former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' speech.

University Police Department Lt. Stacy Ettel said UPD will place officers near the front of the stage at future events. The officers will probably not be in uniform, he added.

During Gonzales' speech at the Phillips Center, UF students Richard Gutierrez and Kevin Hachey climbed on stage wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods covering their faces.

One of the students stood directly next to Gonzales for about five seconds before UPD officers removed him from the stage.

Both students were arrested for disrupting a public event.

"Obviously, we weren't comfortable with them being on the stage," Ettel said. "Now we're making a few changes."

Security measures for speeches were already under review after UPD officers used a Taser on Andrew Meyer, a UF telecommunication senior. He was Tasered during an appearance by Sen. John Kerry.

UPD had switched to a three-tiered system at the Gonzales speech, Ettel said.

Phillips Center employees, then UF officials and finally police officers asked disruptive audience members to leave the venue, Ettel said.

He acknowledged that Gonzales could have been physically harmed by the protesters, adding that he believes this was an isolated incident that wouldn't happen again.

An officer positioned behind the stage's curtains was alerted by radio and already headed toward the protesters as they climbed on stage, he added.

"It happened this one time, but we've had two former United States presidents and the former president of Russia speak here without any safety issues," he said. "We've had a fantastic track record and will continue that."

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Steven Blank, chairman of Accent, Student Government's speakers bureau, said he doesn't think the recent disturbances at Accent events will harm its ability to attract top speakers.

"I think we will continue to bring in prominent, influential and controversial speakers," he said.

He also said the audience should hold some responsibility in creating a safe atmosphere.

"While of course it's a concern that people were able to get on stage, it's also a concern that our audience members would even attempt such a thing," Blank said. "I don't think it shines well on the students."

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