5 from U go to trial for sit-in

The sit-in on May 4 was to protest a plan to change General College.

Devon Sykes

FCorrection: The Daily incorrectly stated that Phyllis Walker had been arrested May 4 for obstructing the legal process. She was charged with obstructing the legal process but not arrested.

Five former and current students arrested in May after protesting General College changes have their day in court later this month.

Russ Lyons, Dan Gordon, Laura Freund, Alondra Espejel and Kwabena Siaka were charged with misdemeanor trespassing. Their trial is set for Sept. 19.

The students staged a sit-in May 4 at University President Bob Bruininks’ office at Morrill Hall, when police arrested them after they refused to leave by 6 p.m.

“We were sitting in a public place that we pay to attend,” Lyons said.

Nine students were arrested, but four took plea bargains earlier this summer because they had obligations preventing them from going to trial, he said. Lyons believes the trial later this month will vindicate the people currently facing charges.

“It’s really more of a matter of principle at this point. We don’t feel we can do anything else,” he said. “We’re willing to go all the way. That’s probably going to make a statement by itself.”

They face a maximum fine of $1,000 and 90 days in jail if found guilty.

Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel, said that the students intended to trespass to make their point.

“Laws generally allow people to be in public buildings for the proper purpose at the proper time,” he said. “The students were allowed by the administration to remain in the President’s foyer area, and were advised to leave at the end of the day. When the office closed, they refused to leave.”

Rotenberg said the University is cooperating with police in this matter, but that the University has had no part in the city attorney’s prosecution.

“The evidence is all there; there were no surprises here,” he said.

National Lawyer’s Guild attorney Bruce Nestor, who represents the five former and current students, said charges of interfering with the police are also being brought against at least one individual who was sprayed with mace at the sit-in.

“These people were trying to observe the arrest process, were doing nothing to interfere with the police and were sprayed with Mace at close range,” Nestor said.

Lyons said several people concerned with their safety were harassed, and that some of this alleged mistreatment, including police officers spraying Mace at onlookers, was recorded on video at the incident.

Phyllis Walker, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 – a union engaged in contract disputes with the University – was also arrested in connection with the incident.

The lawsuit charged that she obstructed the legal process by interfering in the arrest of the nine students. She also is scheduled to appear in court later this month.

Walker said she was “nowhere near” them, and that the video of the incident confirms it.

Freund last registered for classes in fall 2004 and Espejel last registered for classes in spring 2005, according to One Stop.