By Daniel de Vise
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 10:56 AM
A disagreement between two students about who had dibs on a study room in a George Mason University library led to a felony abduction charge against a senior and a vigorous Internet campaign to clear his name.
Campus police say Abdirashid Dahir locked a female classmate into a study room at the Fenwick Library on the George Mason campus during the argument, which brought officers to the library and resulted in his ejection and subsequent arrest March 8.
Dahir, 25, of Arlington alleges that the unidentified female student made up the story. In a well-circulated written account, he says the woman voiced a dislike of "foreigners" and an intent to get him "in a lot of trouble."
Dahir spent a night in jail. He faces a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison if convicted. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 6 in Fairfax County General District Court.
He is temporarily barred from the residence hall where he was a resident assistant and says he is sleeping on friends' couches.
The case has spawned an online petition with more than 2,000 signatures and a social media campaign that seeks both to clear Dahir and to protest the conduct of the George Mason police. It also has set off a swift-paced internal investigation at George Mason, a Virginia public university known for its international flavor.
The campus culture at George Mason is "fair, it's diverse, it's just, and everybody expects us to live up to that. And we will," said Christine LaPaille, a university spokeswoman.
Separate investigations by the university's police and judicial affairs office are expected to conclude before week's end, LaPaille said. Dahir and his accuser were interviewed Tuesday on campus. The university is on spring break.
Both students stand by their stories, according to one university official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because employees are not authorized to discuss the investigation. There is no eyewitness to corroborate either story, the official said.
In his account, co-authored and posted to Facebook by a George Mason classmate, Dahir states that he settled on a study room in the library after a long search - the rooms are in high demand - and then left for seven minutes to fetch his laptop charger.
He says he returned to find the female student in the room. Both students refused to budge. She summoned campus police. A short while later, she called police again, claiming that Dahir had locked her inside the room. Dahir contends that he propped the door open.
Officers arrived and asked Dahir to leave the library. He went to the police headquarters and complained to a supervisor about his treatment, exchanging testy words with officers.
A few hours later, officers arrested Dahir in his residence hall.
Under Virginia law, abduction "in its simplest sense means detaining someone against their will," said Ian Rodway, chief deputy commonwealth's attorney in Fairfax.
University officials say they want to conclude the investigation quickly because Dahir is only weeks from graduation.