Texter says message wasn't a racial slur


Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 11:42 p.m.

A mysterious text message sent to University of Florida students on inauguration night was not meant to be a racial slur against President Barack Obama, according to the former UF student who admitted to sending the message.

But whatever the intent, Andrew James Tatum now faces a felony charge for sending the message, "The monkey got out of the cage," to about 46,000 current and former UF students, faculty and staff.

"I just hope it's not something that wrecks my life for many years to come," said Tatum, 24, a former student who was employed by the company that provides text messaging services to UF.

UF police filed a sworn complaint Monday with State Attorney Bill Cervone. The complaint charges Tatum with accessing a computer without authorization to impair public service.

The latter part of the charge bumps it up from a third-degree to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Cervone could not be reached to comment on whether he would pursue the case.

Tatum said he was merely trying to show off to friends that he had access to the text-messaging system. He said the message was a random reference - possibly to the cartoon "The Family Guy" - that was not meant to insult Obama.

"It had no hidden meaning. . . . It was just one of those sayings that came out of a cartoon and I thought was funny," he said.

In fact, he said, he voted for Obama and was surprised when Internet and media speculation suggested the message was a racial slur.

"That honestly just floored me," he said.

Tatum is a former UF advertising major. He said he left the university to work as director of technology for Mobile Campus, the Atlanta-based company that provides emergency text messaging services to UF.

He said he worked there for nearly three years but lost his job as part of layoffs in October, returning to Gainesville in the hopes of resuming his education in the summer. Tatum used a friend's computer to send the text message last Tuesday around 8:45 p.m.

He said he expected a second screen that asked if he really wanted to send the message, only to have the message immediately sent across the campus and beyond. He said he never accessed personal information of UF students and has cooperated with law enforcement.

"I do realize I've lost a lot of trust. . . . I do realize what I did was wrong," Tatum said.

Other than a speeding ticket, he said, he's never been in trouble before. He said he hopes the incident will not interfere with his ability to continue his education.

"I hope the outcome is I'm still able to go to UF this summer," Tatum said.

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