Audrey Whitesides was on shift driving the airport shuttle when she spied the dumpsters full of goods near some dormitories on the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus.
The bins were filled with items outgoing students had apparently thrown out, Whitesides says: clothes, a lamp, shoes and new or hardly used school supplies, including notebooks, pens and pencils. According to SFUAD's academic calendar, student residence halls had closed at noon Sunday for students participating in graduation. (Students not participating vacated the dorms the day before.)
Sunday evening, Whitesides parked her red Subaru by one of the dumpsters. She and a friend, Adam Steinberg, dug into the garbage and lifted various treasures. Security cameras spotted them and two guards came out to tell the pair “they could not be dumpster diving,” according to the Santa Fe Police Department’s incident report. Whitesides says the guards told them to leave. But they kept some shoes, towels, a couple of plastic bins and an unbroken mirror they’d already loaded into the car.
Their decision to return a few minutes later eventually landed them in jail for the night.
Steinberg hadn't been able to forget about the telephoto lens he'd seen in a large box on top of the dumpster. They returned together in Whitesides' car, which had a license plate that read "LADYBG."
As they approached the dumpsters once again, Whitesides says she and Steinberg watched security guards get into a car. She backed her car into a parking spot and tried to look inconspicuous. But it was too late. Two guards were already behind the Subaru, walking up to the driver's side.
Whitesides drove forward, following another university security vehicle toward an exit. But when the pair arrived near King Hall, the two guards in the second security vehicle parked, got out and stood in front of the Subaru. Behind the divers were two other guards on foot. Cornered, Whitesides began reversing her car—and wound up knocking down Lee Valera, one of the guards. As she backed out, another guard standing in front of her, Angelico Chavez, threw his radio at Whitesides’ windshield, shattering it.
The police report says officers were sent to the campus around 12:20 a.m., after the Subaru had dinged Valera. Six police cruisers and a paramedic arrived to the scene. Santa Fe police officer Ryan Alire-Maez reported that Valera had a small scratch on his hand but refused medical attention.
Whitesides and Steinberg were arrested for criminal trespassing and taken to the Santa Fe Adult Detention Center, where they were jailed for more than 12 hours before posting $500 cash bonds. Whitesides' car was impounded.
They disagree over whether the actions of the campus security guards and police officers were justified.
"I understand keeping the school safe, but there weren't students there," Whitesides tells SFR. "Why is it a big deal that me as a tax payer went on public property that I paid for just to go through the dumpster?" (The university leases land from the city, but New Mexico state law says legal occupants can deny people access to their premises.)
She calls the students who discarded recyclable materials "slobs."
Steinberg, on the other hand, thinks police "had the right" to arrest him and Whitesides after they returned to the property. But he also says the pair's guerilla recycling mission was a righteous one. He points out that teachers in the city and across the state have difficulty providing students with the kinds of school supplies they took from the dumpsters. And he questions why SFUAD hadn't made it easier for students to donate unwanted goods.
"There's lots of open lots, why don't they take the stuff to an open lot?" he says. "I bet you there is literally thousands of dollars worth of value in those dumpsters right now. And that kind of thing happens all the time.
"People are suffering for lack. If we don't figure out how to put two and two together, we're all the dumber for it."
SFUAD spokeswoman Rachael Lighty says the school did provide opportunities for students who were moving out to donate their stuff, but some didn't take the opportunity. Asked to comment on the arrests, she said campus security was present to maintain a safe learning environment.
"The safety and the security of our faculty, staff, and our entire campus community is really of the upmost importance to us, and so although we do have events that are open to the community, we still need to put the safety of our students and our campus community first," she tells SFR. Lighty adds that about 50 students who were planning to attend the school's summer session were living on campus the night of the arrests.
Whitesides says her and Steinberg are due back in court in July. She plans to represent herself.
The Santa Fe Police Department says the two may face additional charges.