Graduate teaching assistant on ‘investigatory leave’; on-campus protest canceled

Fresno City Council hosted a public meeting on Oct. 20 at Fresno Council Chambers. (Marcos Acosta/The Collegian)

This story was updated Nov. 14, 2022 at 8:23 a.m.

Social media backlash continued to mount in reaction to the death of Hoover High School student Rashad Al-Hakim Jr., with community members calling for a protest on campus. 

In an apparent connection to the protest, on Monday university officials announced a one-day closure of the Fresno State art building. The decision was rescinded hours later. 

The Hoover student, 15, was hit by a car on Oct. 4 outside the high school and died on Oct. 10. At an Oct. 20 Fresno City Council meeting, his mother, Ragina Bell, named a Fresno State graduate teaching assistant in the art department as the driver.

At the city council meeting, Tina Griffin, deputy city attorney of the City of Fresno, said that, because of the ongoing investigation, the name of the driver was not released publicly. However, the family is able to release any information it received and anything prohibited would have been redacted, she said.

After receiving a copy of the Fresno Police Department report, Bell named the driver in a public comment. In the aftermath, online posts trended across social media with the face and name of the individual that Bell named: Lisa Spoors. 

Fresno Chief of Police Paco Balderrama said the family received the information the day before the meeting.

“It’s released to the people who requested [the public records act request]. That [driver] hasn’t been charged with the crime yet. Therefore, we’re limited on releasing it to the public,” Balderrama said during the council meeting. 

On Oct. 22, Lauren Nickerson, associate vice president for University Communications, provided information regarding Spoors’ current status at Fresno State.

“Lisa Spoors was placed on investigatory leave pending further review by the university,” Nickerson said.

The university did not confirm whether or not Spoors was the driver involved in the incident, or whether the investigatory leave was due to any involvement with Al-Hakim Jr.’s death. Nickerson said the university currently has no updates to provide.

Two days earlier, The Collegian contacted University Communications regarding whether or not Spoors was involved with the incident. 

“Lisa Ellen Spoors has been employed as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Art and Design since fall 2021. We send our condolences to Rashad’s family for their tragic loss,” said Lisa Bell, Fresno State’s public information.

The Collegian tried to contact Spoors through their personal Instagram account; however, a response was not received by press time.

Family and community members organized and promoted a protest calling for Spoors’ arrest. The protest was scheduled for noon Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Phebe Conley Art Gallery. 

However, on Sunday, a Facebook post on an organizer’s page noted that the protest was canceled. University officials were apparently unaware of that cancellation early Monday afternoon.

The Department of Art and Design sent a 2 p.m. email to students in the department announcing that the Conley Art Building would be closed on Tuesday, the same day of the expected protest. 

“The Art, Design and Art History Department and the Conley Art Building will be closed all day tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022,” it said in the email. “No classes will be held in the Conley Art Building…  Please do not attempt to attend any classes in person within the Conley Art Building. If your class is held in another location, such as [in the] Music, IT or Education buildings you may still have an in person class meeting.”

Several hours later, Lisa Bell told The Collegian the building will no longer be closed. She did not comment on the reasoning behind the initial closure or whether or not it was related to Spoors. 

“In light of information received this afternoon, the Conley Art Building will not be closed tomorrow. We will monitor and support campus activities accordingly in the event a protest is held,” Lisa Bell said.

In an interview on Monday with The Collegian, Ragina Bell said the protest was canceled so the family can focus on upcoming funeral services for her son on Nov. 4. 

“I was a part of [the protest]. But right now, I withdrew myself from it because I have a time limit to plan a funeral, and I just want to put my son to rest properly,” Ragina Bell said.

As of 10 p.m. Monday, art department students had not received an update on the closure. 

During the Oct. 20 Fresno City Council meeting, Ragina Bell spoke to council members regarding the collision that killed her son.

Ragina Bell made a public comment while carrying a sign that said “Justice for Rashad Al-Hakim Jr.” She demanded the city council release the name of the driver.

“This accident happened on Oct. 4. My son’s information was released. He is a 15-year-old child. He’s a minor, yet his information is released yet [the driver’s] information was not released to the public,” Ragina Bell said in her public comment.

Ragina Bell has set up a GoFundMe for the burial costs.

The funeral for Al-Hakim Jr. will be held on Nov. 4, at 11 a.m. at the Westside Church of God on 1422 W. California Ave.

“I just want justice for my son. He did not deserve this,” Ragina Bell told The Collegian.

Correction Nov. 14, 2022:

In a previous version of this article, Lisa Spoors’ pronouns were incorrect. Spoors uses they/them pronouns, according to University Communications.

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