In January, a non-student lived in Janss hall for several days and students reported missing valuables.
On Jan. 14, a non-student came onto the California Lutheran University campus and said that he was a Cal Lutheran football player and student. After convincing Cal Lutheran students to allow him into the residence hall Janss hall, he reportedly removed items belonging to students after a multiple-night stay.
Residence Life Director Chris Paul said that he was later arrested in San Diego.
The impersonator is suspected of trespassing into Janss hall and requested housing from one of the residents. He said that he was a transfer student who had nowhere to stay, former Resident Assistant sophomore Tyler Lozano said.
The non-student attempted to use information about the football team and a Cal Lutheran prospective email to convince other residents of his status as a student, Lozano said.
The non-student obtained information about the Cal Lutheran football team’s practice schedule and lifting information by messaging a team player on social media, Lozano said.
“Any new player can want to know about the program,” sophomore Cal Lutheran football player John Wise said. “They like to know what’s going on with our workouts and ask us questions. It’s kind of creepy to see this information being used against us.”
Lozano said that he spoke to the student impersonator before he tried to stay with sophomore Romelo Casanave. He advised Casanave not to allow him to stay.
In Nov. 2019, Casanave told The Echo that his RA did not advise him to not let the impersonator stay. Casanave said the non-student approached him outside of Janss Hall and told him he needed a place to stay for the night. Casanave said he called Lozano, and Lozano informed him the non-student had “legit paperwork.”
After spending one night in Casanave’s room, the Cal Lutheran impersonator went to a second Janss hall room and said he was their incoming roommate for the spring, Lozano said.
The second Janss hall room was occupied by two roommates at the time, leaving two beds unoccupied. The students living in the hall had received an email from Residence Life before the spring semester began stating that they would be receiving a roommate in the room, junior resident Sam Chong said.
“I walked in and he was sitting here so comfy watching TV, so I was like ‘he must be our fourth roommate,’” Chong said.
Chong came back to his room to find the non-student already living in his room Monday, Jan. 16. The non-Cal Lutheran student introduced himself as “Sowell” and said that he was a transfer student who was being given a late acceptance letter from Cal Lutheran, Chong said.
“He said he was working with the football team,” Chong said. “[Elder] said once he was accepted he was getting his class schedule.”
The non-student lived in the second room for approximately four to five days or three to four nights, Chong said. Chong said he is uncertain of the length of his stay, as his roommate junior Joe Murillo had arrived to find “Sowell” present before him.
In an email to the Cal Lutheran football team, the man who stayed in the hall was identified as “Sowell Elder.”
During this time, both Chong and Murillo began to discuss Elder’s behavior.
“First day I walk in . . . The room reeks of weed,” Chong said. “I was like ‘what the hell you gotta be kidding me.’”
Chong said he felt that he could not confront the student at the time because he could not confirm the smell came from their room.
“He didn’t bring any stuff,” Chong said. “All of the stuff he brought, like his towel, he borrowed from Romelo.”
The student also ordered a large amount of food on one occasion before asking Murillo to pay for him, Chong said.
Chong said the impersonator began smoking marijuana inside the room, and he told the impersonator that he could not smoke in the room. The impersonator did not say anything back.
When Murillo came home Jan .19 and warned the impersonator not to smoke in the room, “He flipped out,” Chong said.
“[Elder] said ‘If they have a problem with that, I don’t care. I can do whatever I want,’” Chong said. “I thought ‘this kid’s not a good student.”’
After the confrontation, Chong said he and Murillo left the room to discuss the behavior with Casanave in the Grace hall lounge.
They said they decided that they should call RA Lozano and inform him.
“First we came [back to the room] to plan out stuff, and this kid’s gone,” Chong said.
Murillo noticed that the screen in the window of the room he shared with the impersonator was broken, Chong said.
Chong stayed in the room while Murillo went to inform RA Lozano of the situation. Lozano said Casanave was also waiting in the room with Chong.
Lozano, who said he was unaware that the impersonator had stayed for that length of time, confirmed to the residents that this was not a Cal Lutheran student. After calling his Graduate Resident Director Salma Loo, Lozano was instructed to call Campus Safety.
“The Campus Safety representative told the reporting party to contact his RA to report the incident. A few minutes later Campus Safety received a phone call from the RA. The RA was informed to contact the Thousand Oaks Police Department so that the victim could file a police report,” Director of Campus Safety David Hilke said in an email interview.
On Jan. 19, Lozano said that Campus Safety was called around 10 p.m. but was told that they would not send someone until 11 p.m. after the shift change.
“[Residence life] followed protocols, so we called Campus Safety,” Paul said. “I believe they called the Thousand Oaks Police Department too. I’m pretty sure what happened is that our RA called Campus Safety and Campus Safety called 911.”
Shortly after the call to Campus Safety, Lozano said he was told to call the authorities.
“Campus Safety informed me to let the residents know to call 911,” Lozano said. “The residents called the police and the police arrived on campus before Campus Safety even got there.”
After being told that Campus Safety would not be dispatched immediately, Murillo called Chong.
“He asked me to look in the living room because he forgot to check to see if [his] stuff is there,” Chong said.
Chong said they realized that Murillo’s Xbox and laptop were missing from the room. After checking his own room, he found that his laptop and speakers were left untouched.
“Then I was like ‘wait my watch,’” Chong said. “I checked it and it was gone. I was like ‘no way that happened.’”
Chong said that they called Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. Lozano said police reported to the scene and all of the roommates gave statements.
“Romelo was talking to the Ventura County Sheriff [in person] before Campus Safety finally got there,” Lozano said.
Murillo filed a report with the Thousand Oaks Police Department Friday Jan. 20. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Pressboard described the crime as “PC 487(A) Felony” and “Grandtheft.” The public narrative is listed as: “Known subject removed property from the resident hall without permission.”
Murillo declined to comment.
The crime was listed as “burglary” under the Cal Lutheran crime log. The impersonator is suspected of committing other crimes on campus including trespassing and marijuana use, both Lozano and Chong said.
Residence Life was informed of the incident and Paul said appropriate action was taken.
“Anytime we have students who go through a significant issue or have something going on, we follow up with them so we work with students individually to make sure that they have the resources that they need, the information that they need, and help them navigate police reports. That’s what we did in this situation too,” Paul said.
After the incident, Chong said Residence Life conducted an interview. He said that Residence Life, “kind of turned it into our fault saying [we] should have kept our door locked.”
Paul said that Residence Life was unaware of any other crimes committed in the halls.
“Campus Safety will work with the Thousand Oaks Police Department to see what charges were filed against the suspect and will update the crime log as necessary,” Hilke said in an email interview.
“This person has been arrested in San Diego,” Paul said. “The university is not seeking damages against the student or person.”
Chong said that Murillo’s missing Xbox was found in San Diego.
“He tried to sell it at a GameStop,” Chong said.
Chong said he had not heard any information about the rest of the items stolen.
“I was surprised and shocked to think someone would impersonate an athlete to steal,” sophomore football player Wise said. “It’s such a small school where you know everybody. [This incident] goes against our values of what we’re taught as players.”
Editor’s Note: Casanave declined to comment when this article was first published in 2017. This article was updated on Nov. 14, 2019, following contact from Casanave, to include his recollection of events.
By Brandy Alonzo-Mayland