Charges Dropped on Last Semester's Arrests
Three Oberlin students whose arrests last fall sparked outrage on campus arranged on Wednesday to have their charges dismissed. The College first-year, junior and senior completed separate pre-trial diversion programs involving community service, education and payment of fines and court costs.
Oberlin Police Department Patrol Officer John Sanderson arrested the junior for public urination in the early hours of Sunday, Sept. 30. The student paid a total of $330, including court fees, to have the court dismiss his charges of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. He initially entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
The student’s defense counsel, Anthony Rich, felt that the fine was “nothing compared to what he was originally charged with.” He added that, despite his contention of his client’s initial charges, “the prosecution was very fair. [He’s] a good kid.”
Rich said that his client’s case should be a warning to Oberlin students: “I think it’s important that students know what their rights are…. The law is clear that as long as you’re trying to conceal yourself, you can’t be charged with public indecency.”
Sanderson called in for additional assistance at 1:51 a.m. after a group of partygoers approached his patrol car, which was parked at the intersection of Union Street and North Main Street.
Two of the most vocal members of the group of partygoers involved were also subsequently arrested. Both were ordered to pay $305 to have their charges dismissed. They entered pleas of not guilty at their respective arraignments on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
The female first-year was charged with obstructing official business and disorderly conduct. The senior was charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing official business, resisting arrest and petty theft for escaping from a police car with handcuffs. He avoided a felony charge related to the escape by turning himself in.
Police Captain and Public Information Officer Clifton Barnes said in his review of the incident that he would issue a reprimand against Patrol Officer Southworth, whose disregard for departmental policy in leaving his cruiser unlocked allowed the student to exit the vehicle.
During their arrest, the junior and senior students were forced to the ground and the first-year student sustained a cut below her right eye for which she was later treated by an EMS squad.
Patrol Officers Sanderson and Stephanie Reitz also sustained injuries from the arrests, including abrasions to the knuckles. Sanderson was treated for a lumbar back strain, while Reitz took ten weeks off from work to recuperate from a rotator cuff injury.
The incident inspired a dialogue between the College, town and OPD; former United States attorney for the eastern district of Michigan, Saul Green, is acting as a facilitator. Though the report that results from these talks will not specifically address these arrests or charges of racism among OPD officers, it will attempt to patch the now rocky relationship among the three groups involved.
Dean of Students Linda Gates said via e-mail, “The city-college-community group that has been meeting since October has not focused directly on the events of that evening, but rather on the issues that surfaced in discussions and open forums following the incident.”
Gates added that the talks have focused on the cohesion of the entire Oberlin populace: “[They have] also discussed specific ways in which the College can educate students to their rights and responsibilities as community members, including building relationships with City officials and neighbors.”
The complete results of this dialogue have not yet been released pending final meetings between Green and representatives of all sides. According to Al Moran, vice president for College Relations, Green will be conducting meetings today to continue the talks.
City Manager Eric Norenberg said that the entire Oberlin police force will receive additional training related to handling volatile group situations. Despite student accusations, Norenberg said, “The finding was that there was no excessive use of force.”
In a memo to Norenberg, OPD Chief Tom Miller supported the behavior of Sanderson, Reitz and Southworth but advocated further training: “Although the arrests and actions of the officers that night were within procedure, it is possible that the second and third arrests may have been avoided if our officers utilized additional techniques to manage the crowd and improve communication with the students.”
The three students as well as Barry Eckstein, legal counsel for two of the defendants, declined to comment on the arrests or litigation.