University of North Georgia junior and cadet Dante Jamal Harris is facing expulsion, the loss of his National Guard commission and prison time after taking an embarrassing photo of his instructor and sharing it with friends.
The photo was taken Nov. 3, 2016, in the Military Leadership Center on the Dahlonega campus. It was here that Harris entered a bathroom to find his instructor, Major Richard Neikirk, using a urinal with his shorts pulled down below his buttocks, according to a post done by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Harris took out his phone and snapped a photo, then proceeded to text the photo to three of his friends. From there, the photo was shared on messaging app GroupMe, where it was viewed by hundreds of people.
As word spread across the corps, Harris was eventually ordered to show the photo to his superior officer. Harris faces a fine of $51,000 and up to six years in prison for charges of transmission of photography depicting nudity, a misdemeanor, and unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance, a felony. In December, Harris was arrested by Lumpkin County sheriff’s deputies and released on a $7,500 bond, according to the Gainesville Times.
In addition to these charges, Harris could lose his scholarship, which covered his tuition, books, room, meals and additional fees.
Prior to receiving this scholarship, Harris was homeless.
“My father chose to never meet me, my mother chose to never support me,” Harris wrote in an essay as part of his application to UNG in 2014. “I live … with friends and neighbors because my mother decided to put a roof over her boyfriend’s head instead of her own son.”
On April 19, Harris met before the UNG disciplinary panel for a Title IX hearing to decide whether to suspend him and/or revoke his scholarship. The panel recommended the suspension be reduced to two semesters. He would be eligible to re-enroll in spring 2018.
With the risk of losing his scholarship and facing criminal charges, Harris has taken on attorney Jeff Wolff to represent him. Wolff claims Harris “is not guilty of what he’s been accused of.”
To support this, Wolff emphasized in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution that a felony count would require the photograph to be taken “in any private place and out of public view.” Wolff argues a urinal in a public bathroom does not constitute a private area.
As for the misdemeanor, Wolff states Harris himself didn’t upload the photo to social media, thus cannot be held to the charge.
Wolff also questioned why the Major had exposed himself in the public bathroom.
“It is beyond me that [Neikirk] thought this was appropriate behavior,” he said.
In an interview by Ledger-Enquirer, Harris expressed his remorse over his actions.
“I have learned a huge lesson,” he said. “Something I may see as funny, other people don’t see it that way. And I now see how my actions affect other people. I regret it.”
Harris entered UNG in 2015 with a $70,000 scholarship after graduating high school with a 3.9 GPA. Harris is attending UNG to become an officer in the Georgia Army National Guard and has spent four semesters in UNG’s ROTC program and made the Dean’s List in 2016, according to a Facebook post written by Amber Penny Massey, who acted as Harris’ guardian.