Star Simpson Receives Pretrial Probation

Star A. Simpson ’10 was sentenced Monday to one year of supervised pretrial probation on a charge of disorderly conduct. The charge stems from a Sept. 2007 incident when she was arrested at gunpoint at Logan International after airport personnel mistook a circuit board on her sweatshirt for a bomb. The incident — and MIT’s public relations — incited national and local controversy.

An East Boston District Court judge sentenced Simpson to one year of supervised pretrial probation on a charge of disorderly conduct and ordered her to perform 50 hours of community service, half of which much be completed with veterans, and to publicly announce that she had made a mistake.

“I want to apologize for the results of my conduct on September 21, 2007. Although I never intended to act in a disorderly fashion, I now realize that the shirt I created caused alarm and concern at Logan Airport,” Simpson said in a statement released Monday by her attorney, Thomas E. Dwyer, Jr. “I am appreciative to the Massachusetts State Police for their diligence in protecting our citizens and apologize for the expense that was caused that day.”

Simpson’s arrest

On the morning of Sept. 21, 2007, Simpson wore a black hooded sweatshirt. Atop the sweatshirt was a circuit board which contained green light-emitting diodes in the shape of a star, which she had used as a “name tag” during that week’s Career Fair. That morning, she traveled to Logan Airport to pick up her boyfriend.

When she approached an information booth at Logan Airport’s Terminal C, an employee questioned her about the device on her sweatshirt, according to Assistant District Attorney Wayne Margolis, speaking at Simpson’s Sept. 21 arraignment. She “said it was a piece of art” and “refused to answer any more questions,” Margolis said. Simpson then left the building and disconnected the battery that was powering the LEDs, according to a press release provided by Suffolk County District Attorney press officer Jake Wark in September.

Outside Terminal C, Simpson was arrested at gunpoint by state troopers wielding MP5 submachine guns.

“Thankfully, because she followed instructions as was required, she ended up in a cell as opposed to the morgue,” said State Police Maj. Scott Pare at a Sept. 21 press conference before Simpson’s arraignment.

In a Sept. 21 press release, the MIT News Office said that “Ms. Simpson’s actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport.” The statement ignited controversy among many at MIT who wished the Institute had not called her actions “reckless.”

At the May 2008 faculty meeting, President Susan Hockfield expressed regret over the way her administration had handled the case. Hockfield was unavailable to comment for this story.

“It’s really important to me to thank the MIT community,” Simpson said in an e-mail to The Tech. “I’ve received a whole lot of support from many fabulous individuals within it.”

Pretrial probation agreement

Simpson was originally charged with “possession of a hoax device,” a charge which would require prosecutors to show she meant to scare people with her circuit board, which contained light-emitting diodes in the shape of a star. But they “determined that they could not move forward on that count and dismissed it to the disorderly [conduct] charge,” according to a press release supplied by Wark.

Instead of going to trial, Simpson accepted the pretrial probation offer on Monday, June 2. If Simpson performs the community service and does not re-offend in the next year, the charge of disorderly conduct will be dropped. (Otherwise, the district attorney’s press release says, “the case will be returned to the court docket for trial.”) Simpson said she does not yet know what the community service will be.

According to the press release, prosecutors weighed Simpson’s behavior during her trial against her lack of criminal record, her academic involvement, and her experience of arrest at gunpoint in their decision to lower the charge.

During the time between her arrest and the June 2 hearing, Simpson was banned from Massport property, including Logan Airport, and had to fly out of other New England airports. “It also meant I couldn’t attend the international symposium on wearable computing, as it was held at the Hyatt at Logan Airport,” Simpson said in an e-mail to The Tech.

It is unclear who issued the ban. Wark said the district attorney’s office had not requested this restriction. Dwyer could not be reached by press time.

According to Simpson, her lawyers worked pro bono. She paid court fees.