Update Sept. 21, 2019: In April 2019, Kelly filed two libel lawsuits, one against Campus Communications, Inc. and the other against UF. On Aug. 8, Kelly and UF agreed to a settlement which provided Kelly would dismiss his suit and release UF from his claims in exchange for UF’s removal from its websites its April 14, 2017 official statement, statements.ufl.edu, which said:
“On April 13, an individual was removed from campus and banned after refusing to leave an office in African American Studies in Walker Hall where he espoused a racist ideology.”
Kelly was never charged or arrested for any crime. University Police allowed Kelly to leave UF’s campus unescorted after he had been issued a trespass warning.
The UPD report about the incident states Sharon Burney told UPD that Kelly “did not threaten her, but she felt intimidated by his size. Burney said she asked Kelly to leave, but he wanted to have a debate with her.” The report further states, “Burney said Kelly stood in the doorway to her office and refused to leave.” It also states Kelly said that “he was never asked to leave” and “denied blocking the entrance to Burney's office.” Kelly denies he ever “expressed support for a racist ideology,” “ranted about reverse racism” or “espoused a racist ideology.”
According to the report, UPD issued Kelly a trespass warning form, he said he would comply and that he would seek to have the warning rescinded and it was in April 2019. The report does not refer to Dr. Sharon Austin.
Finally, Kelly contends the British Reformed Sectarian Party was created by the Florida Secretary of State, not him, although Kelly filed the documents which the Secretary of State’s legal staff used for its deliberations.
Update Monday 10:25 a.m.: UF President Kent Fuchs released a statement saying police have conducted a security review of Walker Hall following Thomas John Kelly's confronting black faculty members. Kelly is not employed or enrolled at UF.
In response, University Police has increased patrols and will consider installing additional safeguards this week, he said.
"There is no room for threats and fear tactics on our campus," Fuchs said. "Statements and symbols of hate that hurt, intimidate or disparage others undermine our inclusivity goals. When we embrace our differences and unite as members of the UF community, we can support one another in our quest for an inclusive campus."
A man was removed from UF’s campus Thursday after he confronted two members of the university’s African American studies program in their ofﬁce and expressed support for a racist ideology.
Thomas John Kelly, the founder of the British Reformed Sectarian Party of Florida — which in the past has reportedly barred African Americans from joining — blockaded the ofﬁce’s doorway as he ranted about reverse racism, said Sharon Burney, a program assistant in the African American studies program.
University Police removed Kelly, 54, for criminal trespassing about 40 minutes after he entered the ofﬁ ce space and “espoused a racist ideology,” UF spokesperson Janine Sikes wrote in an email Friday. Kelly has been banned from the campus and all of UF property, including UF Health Shands Hospital, according to UPD’s active trespass list.
The ban did little to return Burney her peace of mind. She decided to stay home Friday, and going forward, the front door to Walker Hall, which houses the African American studies program, will remain locked during the day.
During the incident, she later said, Burney feared for her life and did not know if Kelly intended to harm anyone or if he was armed.
“I’m just trying to do my job — do I have to die in the process?” Burney said.
Two days earlier, Kelly sent Burney and a professor in the department, Sharon Austin, an email asking to debate members of the program, Burney said. She said he also called Virgil Hawkins, an African-American student who helped desegregate UF, a liar.
Burney said Kelly apparently came by the building Wednesday night, according to a janitor, but neither of them were in the office at the time. Because of the layout of the office and Kelly’s height — he stood more than 6 feet tall by the professors’ estimate — neither of the women were able to leave the office when he confronted them.
“He seemed to be getting agitated, and with the office being such a closed-in space, we couldn’t really leave,” Austin said. “We were very fearful, and it made both of us uncomfortable.”
When Kelly took a step forward, Burney used the opportunity to slip out and run down the hall to tell a colleague to call the police. She then ran back, afraid to leave Austin alone.
The colleague she asked to call the police texted Burney, saying the police wanted Burney to call them herself and provide more details.
Burney said she couldn’t because the man was right in front of her. Burney and Austin said they were frustrated the police didn’t immediately come, considering the rash of hateful incidents that have occurred on campus since January.
“In a situation like this, I think all calls should be taken seriously,” Austin said. “Especially in African American studies, because the other incidents in just the last month.”
Burney said she felt like the response should have been immediate. She said if the two of them had been shot, nobody would have found out for hours.
“Soon as you heard Walker Hall they should have been on their way,” Burney said. “Call it a hate crime, because that’s what it was.”
Last month, the sign outside Walker Hall, which also houses the Center for Jewish Studies, was found pushed over, prompting increased police patrols. Sikes said anyone who feels afraid or threatened should call the police immediately.
“Since an incident earlier this year when the department’s sign was pushed over, the University of Florida Police Department has increased patrols and will continue to work with faculty and staff to help ensure a safe work environment,” Sikes said Friday.
Burney said she was upset to find out Kelly had apparently harassed other African-American professors at the Levin College of Law last year. She said Kelly had waited around for the professors and printed postersized images of their faces.
The professors should have been made aware of him, Burney argued, because their lack of knowledge prevented them from taking his initial email seriously.
“He should have been handled when it happened at the law school,” Burney said.
To help other students — some of whom Kelly described to Burney and Austin with physical characteristics — the professors will put up an image of him.
“I don’t want to be a sitting duck,” Burney said. “I feel like a sitting duck. I feel very unsafe.”
Contact Romy Ellenbogen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @romyellenbogen