Allege “violent physical assault … on unarmed Oberlin students,” despite guilty pleas from students to shoplifting and criminal trespass, amid continuing Black Lives Matter boycott of bakery.
For over a year we have been covering an incident at Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio, close to Oberlin College. The incident involved charges of racial profiling against the Bakery after three black Oberlin students were arrested for shoplifting. When one of the employees, Allyn Gibson, attempted to stop them, a scuffle broke out.
The reaction from Oberlin student activists was to make claims of racial profiling, as we documented in our first post on the incident in November 2016, Bakery targeted by Oberlin College #BlackLivesMatter fights back:
On November 9, 2016, Gibson’s employees noticed what they thought was a person shoplifting two bottles of wine hidden in his jacket. That alleged shoplifter was a black Oberlin College student. When they attempted to stop and photograph him, they were attacked by several other people accompanying the student.
The police were called. The Oberlin town police department has posted the Incident Reportonline, reflecting the arrest of the alleged shoplifter and two others involved in the scuffle. …
What could have been a simple shoplifting incident and arrest created a firestorm when Oberlin College students, including the Black Student Union, Student Senate and College Democrats, alleged racial profiling and launched a boycott of Gibson’s. Protests were launched outside the bakery….
Oberlin College Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo provided this statement to Legal Insurrection in response to the news report that she was passing out literature accusing Gibson’s of racism:
Information and literature available at the protest was prepared by organizers, not the college. I passed along a flyer that was circulating among the crowd to a news tribune reporter who was seeking information from students about what was taking place. I did not prepare the flyer and do not have a copy of the flyer. My presence was to help ensure that a safe environment was maintained.
… The Oberlin Student Senate passed a resolution calling for a boycott of Gibson’s ….
Oberlin halted purchases from Gibson’s, but eventually resumed business.
The three students eventually pled guilty to shoplifting and criminal trespass, and admitted as part of their plea deal that Gibson’s was not racist.
The three Oberlin College students accused of trying to steal wine from Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin and then allegedly beating the store’s employee when he tried to detain them pleaded guilty Friday to amended misdemeanor charges.
The deal calls for them to receive no jail time and to pay restitution.
Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi delivered the sentencing Friday afternoon after several tense hours of negotiations between the parties.
Jonathan Aladin, 20, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of attempted theft, aggravated trespassing and underage purchase of alcohol.
Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, both 19, pleaded guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing.
Oberlin police reported that Aladin tried to buy a bottle of wine Nov. 9 but Allyn Gibson, whose family owns the bakery, refused to sell it to him. Gibson confronted Aladin about the two bottles of wine the student allegedly had hidden under his shirt.
The police report said Gibson told Aladin he was calling the police and not to leave. Aladin allegedly tried to leave, and Gibson told police he took out his phone to take a picture. That’s when Gibson said Aladin slapped the phone from his hand and the device hit Gibson in the face. Police have said Aladin then ran from the store, dropping the two bottles of wine to the floor.
Gibson chased after Aladin and the two men got into a physical confrontation outside.
When police arrived, they reported seeing Gibson on the ground with Aladin, Lawrence and Whettstone hitting him.
But that did not end the controversy, as student boycotts and activism against Gibson’s never went away. The community rallied around Gibson’s, sparking a clear town/gown divide and tension.
This all took place against the backdrop of years of student activism that has made Oberlin something of a subject of mockery that may have contributed to an unexpected decline in Oberlin enrollment, as we documented in Radical fallout: Oberlin College enrollment drops, causing financial problems.
Since that post, we have continued to cover the protests and fallout, which culminated in a lawsuit by Gibson’s against Oberlin and Raim0ndo, Gibson’s Bakery sues Oberlin College over racial profiling accusations, Oberlin cuts business ties. That post has extensive background images and video, as well as a copy of the Complaint (pdf.),
In the Complaint, among other things, Gibson’s alleges that Oberlin has encouraged the continuing protests and boycotts of Gibson’s, has defamed Gibson’s, and has interfered in Gibson’s business, including with regard to a parking area.
The lawsuit has gained a lot of media coverage in the past few days after AP wrote about it, and the story was picked up in multiple outlets, like the Chicago Tribune and some conservative websites. Legal Insurrection readers, of course, already were aware.
The Oberlin and Raimondo court filings surprised me. First, the defendants only moved to dismiss two of the ancillary claims, negligent hiring, retention, or supervision (Count 7) and trespass (Count 8). Left untouched in the Motion to Dismiss were the defamation and other claims that form the heart of the litigation. Of course, dismissal of those claims before trial can be sought later, but that means that Gibson’s will get wide-ranging discovery of the defendants.
Perhaps equally surprising was that Oberlin and Raimondo include an allegation in their court filings that didn’t need to be in the papers, but must be a signal as to the defense strategy. That allegation is that Oberlin and Raimondo merely were looking out for the safety of students after the students were assaulted by Allyn Gibson. Here’s the passage on page 1-2 of the Answer (emphasis added, underscoring in original):
By filing this lawsuit, Plaintiffs regrettably are attempting to profit from a divisive and polarizing event that impacted Oberlin College (“the College”), its students, and the Oberlin community. Indeed, the Complaint is fraught with allegations all designed to
portray Plaintiffs as victims who were wrongfully targeted by Defendants when in fact community members protested the violent physical assault by Allyn D. Gibson on unarmed Oberlin students. Defendants never acted wrongfully or unlawfully, and never targeted or caused any harm to Plaintiffs. Defendants’ sole concern has at all times been for the safety and well-being of students and the community. All of the claims in Plaintiffs’ Complaint lack legal and factual merit. As a result, Defendants will vigorously defend this ill-advised and unfortunate lawsuit.
The attorney for Gibson’s has not responded to an email seeking comment on the highlighted language in the Answer.
A similar line of attack is taken by Oberlin and Raimondo on page 2 of the Memorandum of Law supporting the Partial Motion to Dismiss (emphasis added):
By commencing this legal action, however, Plaintiffs seek to personally profit from a polarizing event that negatively impacted Oberlin College, its students, and the Oberlin community. Thus, not surprisingly, the Complaint contains a smorgasbord of
allegations all designed to falsely portray Plaintiffs as innocent victims. The actual facts do not bear this out. In reality, it was an employee of Gibson’s Bakery and a relative of the individual plaintiffs, Allyn D. Gibson, who left the safety of his business to violently physically assault an unarmed student.
Thus, Oberlin and Raimondo seek to portray the College as the victim in this scenario, including the confessed shoplifters. I can’t imagine, based on what is publicly available, this will work.
Moreover, the boycotts and protests against Gibson organized by students, and allegedly encouraged and coordinate with Oberlin administrators, were not primarily about a supposed assault on a student. Certainly, that was part of the mix, but the primary attack on Gibson’s was and still is that it allegedly engaged in racial profiling and unfairly targeted three black students with false claims of shoplifting. The guilty pleas put the lie to that line of protest, yet it it the defense laid out for Oberlin and Raimondo in their court filings. The Answer being a pleading of Oberlin and Raimondo, constitutes admissions that can be used against them. Unless discovery turns up something beyond what’s publicly known, Gibson’s lawyers should have a field day cross-examining Oberlin witnesses about the language quoted above.
We will continue to monitor and report on this case.
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