USC student Katia Ellati was waiting with three friends for a Lyft on USC's Greek Row on Feb. 2. She said two Los Angeles Police Department officers approached her, shining a flashlight. The officers checked her ID and warned her it would be a misdemeanor if her ID was fake.
"I didn't appear drunk at all. I was sober," Ellati said. "They just assumed that I was drinking…I think I was just targeted because they saw the wristband."
Though Ellati's ID was real and she was not cited, she said that the experience made her feel powerless and motivated her to learn more about her rights.
"It just taught me the lesson of knowing my rights and educating myself more about that," she said. "Next [time]..I would just show them I have my rights, too. You can't just talk down to me because you're a cop."
Another USC student Alexcea Matthews was also stopped on Greek Row. USC DPS asked to check her and her friends' IDs and student IDs to make sure they were over 21, Matthews said.
“I understand why DPS is wanting to crack down on underage drinking, but at same time I think they probably need to reinforce their policies of when you can actually stop a student, ” she said. “I don’t want to feel like I am going to be called out just because I have a wristband on.”
According to SCampus, Part F., Section I., "the act(s) of being drunk and disorderly in public view, including on public sidewalks and walkways, is prohibited," and "the consumption of alcoholic beverages in a public place (unless licensed for consumption of alcohol on the premises) is prohibited. This includes a prohibition of alcoholic beverages in public areas of academic facilities, recreation fields, university housing corridors and lounges."
DPS Assistant Chief David Carlisle said that officers have the right to stop students who seem drunk, but there is no formula to determine whom to stop. The department treats each case individually, he said.
When it comes to Matthews' and Ellati's experiences, simply being drunk or walking on the street with a cup and a wristband is not enough reason for a student to be to detained, and police need to have probable cause, according Chief Carlisle and the California Penal Code Section 647(f).
Carlisle said that behaviors that count toward probable cause include appearing unsteady on your feet and losing your balance, specifically "displaying symptoms of intoxication that may lead the officer to believe they can't care for their own safety."
The LAPD and State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control occasionally work together around local bars to see if students have valid IDs, Carlisle said.
Carlisle said LAPD can arrest, fingerprint, and levy fines of hundreds of dollars on people who use fake IDs.
He adds that DPS officers will typically issue a citation filed in USC Student Judicial Affairs if an underage student is caught drinking. The student will receive a letter with a date to appear before a Judicial Affairs hearing officer, who can assess disciplines, including a five-page research paper on alcohol or community service around the campus.
With serious violations of misconduct, Carlisle said, Judicial Affairs has the authority to suspend or expel the students from the university, which he said is a very rare occurrence.
"We want to make this an educational opportunity…We want them to learn a lesson to make smart choices," he said.
Carlisle said citations will remain on a student's university records.
Ellati said she wants the university to educate students about their rights.
"They have alcohol EDU," she said. "…but how about telling us about the rights we have as students, as young adults? Rather than just assuming we're always up to no good."
Annenberg Media reached out to LAPD multiple times for this story and received no reply. We will update the story with the LAPD response, if we get it.