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Harvard police close ‘hate crime’ case of defaced portraits

Harvard University police earlier this month closed their investigation into the incident in which someone placed strips of black tape over photographs of black professors displayed in the law school’s Wasserstein Hall.

Officials from the department had first said they were treating the incident, which happened in November, as a hate crime.

But in a statement Monday, police spokesman Steven Catalano confirmed that the department has ended its nearly two-month pursuit of a suspect, unless any new or significant information presents itself.

“Over the past six weeks, HUPD investigators conducted a thorough investigation through interviews with many members of the campus community and forensic examination of physical evidence retrieved from the portraits,” Catalano said. “After pursuing these avenues, they were unable to identify the person or persons responsible for placing the tape on the portraits, or to determine the motivation for these acts.”

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Images of the marred portraits were shared on Twitter in November by Jonathan Wall, a third-year law school student. The strips of black tape were meticulously placed over pictures of prominent black faculty members.

The incident prompted students from the law school to band together and write encouraging, positive notes about each professor, and place them on the portraits instead.

On Jan. 8, a message about police putting an end to their investigation into the “deeply troubling incident” was sent by Francis X. McCrossan, dean of administration at Harvard Law School, to law school community.

McCrossan said in the notice that if Harvard police decide to reopen the case, the law school would share with people any significant updates.

In the meantime, officials will install security cameras in the Wasserstein building, which includes Wasserstein Hall, where the tape was found; the Caspersen Student Center; and the Clinical Wing.

“As an academic community, we place great value on maintaining a largely open campus. But we must balance that openness with the equally important need for safety,” McCrossan said.

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A.J. Clayborne, a Harvard law student and member of the group “Royall Must Fall,” which has been fighting for the removal of the school’s official seal because it includes elements drawn from a slave-holding family’s crest, said the administration's failure to address systemic racism leads to incidents like the tape incident.

“It is unfortunate that the investigation was unsuccessful, but this incident was merely a symptom of a larger racial malady at Harvard Law School. Until the law school addresses its problems systematically incidents such as these will undoubtedly continue to occur,” Clayborne said in an e-mail.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.