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Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College – Trial Day 1 – “It was a mob mentality out there”

Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College – Trial Day 1 – “It was a mob mentality out there”

… testified a police officer, who also contradicted a main defense that school officials were involved to calm the situation: “I didn’t see anyone trying to calm the students down at all.”

Today was the first day of testimony in the trial of Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin College. I was in the courtroom, as I will be for every day of trial.

You can read about some of the background on this case here.

If there is one thing Americans agree upon these days, it is that the inmates have taken over the asylum. The various political sides and religious groups and age entities and the multiple genders of this country may not agree upon who are inmates and who runs the asylum — and perhaps how it might get fixed — but they all generally concur that something is messed up.

But in this rare world of agreement, most conclude that the most messed up of all the institutions is higher education, the boilerplate of America gone haywire. Costs out of control, free speech madness, parents bribing officials to get their kids in, sports more important than books, and as writer Gertrude Stein once said, suffering from “There is no there there.”

This higher education identity crisis of who is really in charge was on full display on the opening day of evidence being presented in the Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin College case in Elyria, Ohio. In fact, it all became clear what the primary issue in this case with the first witness.

[Gibson’s attorneys Owen Rarric (L) and Lee Plakas (R) in foreground, Judge John Miraldi at the bench][Photo: Dan McGraw for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

College Employee: Student Behavior Worse Than Nursery School*

Ferdinand Protzman, the chief of staff for the school administration and a 1975 graduate of Oberlin College, was on the stand Friday morning to testify why he didn’t think the school’s decisions to cut business ties with the little local bakery was a good idea after students launched a protest claiming Gibson’s was racist. The racist claim came about because students were upset that Gibson’s caught three African-American students shoplifting in November of 2016.

Gibson’s attorney Lee Plakas asked Protzman what was the reason for cutting ties with the business they had worked with for more than a century. He pointed out emails from various administrators that the student might have throw a “tantrum” on campus, specifically in the cafeteria while eating dinner, and that might be a good reason to get their cookies and bagels elsewhere.

“The concern was that the students were angry?” Plakas asked. “The fear was that angry students would throw food [made by Gibson’s] on the floor [of the cafeteria] and stomp on it?”

“Yes, that was one of the concerns,” Protzman answered.

“Doesn’t that sound more like a nursery school than a college?” Plakas continued.

“Nursery school students do throw food on the floor, yes,” Protzman said, adding “We are not the students’ parents,” as the reason the school could not tell the students to quit threatening to throw food on the floor and eat their dinner like nice people do.

For those who want more details of the “Student Food Stomp Threat,” the food to be flattened into the cafeteria tile was going to be donuts and bagels made by Gibson’s, but no one could was sure of the students were going to put cream cheese on the bagels before they jumped on them.

Oberlin Police Officer Victor Ortiz: “I didn’t see anyone trying to calm the students down at all”

If you think this part is funny teaching moment, listen to what former City of Oberlin police officer Victor Ortiz about the protesters outside of Gibson’s two days after the 2016 presidential election. He was an on-duty that day, and responded to the threat of the 200 or so people protesting. The police quickly assessed the situation, and Ortiz said he found the situation so dangerous that he was considering calling the Lorain County riot team to quell the situation.

“It was a mob mentality out there,” said Ortiz. “People were getting flyers shoved in their faces saying Gibson’s were racist, curse words were chanted, and they chanted how this business was racist too.”

This video, which was not played in court today, gives a sense of what the protest looked like as described by Ortiz:

Ortiz also questioned the supposition from Oberlin College that the school’s employees on the scene at the protest – including Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, a defendant in this case – were only there to calm the situation down.

“I didn’t see anyone trying to calm the students down at all,” Ortiz said. “Didn’t see any of them instructing the students not to use curse words and didn’t hear any of them tell their students not to shout that Gibson’s is racist. The sidewalks were filled up, and a lot of businesses closed in the early afternoon because they were afraid.”

What happened to set this all up was that an Oberlin College male student and his two female student friends were involved in being caught shoplifting wine at Gibson’s Bakery and Market, and a scuffle afterwards outside the store before the three were arrested. This all happened the day after Donald Trump was elected president, and the Oberlin College students seemed angry enough to protest and threaten to stomp on donuts and bagels as a way to express such anger.

Ortiz also settled an issue that has caused some dispute and consternation in Oberlin. Some in the Oberlin College community have expressed that one of the Gibson’s employees (Allyn Gibson) chased after the three shoplifters – one male, and two females – and beat them up unfairly and illegally outside of the store. In short, the school supporters have pushed interpretation of all this that the shoplifters were the victims of a crime, not Gibson’s

Quite the opposite happened, Ortiz testified, as he was one of the first on the scene and the police report backs him up on this.

“When we got there, we saw two young ladies [Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone] standing over [Allyn Gibson] and throwing haymakers at him,” Ortiz said. “The two women would stand over him and kick him, and then crouch down and throw punches. As we got closer, we could see [Allyn Gibson] on his back, with the male [Jonathan Aladin] on top of him and punching him.”

Another point made quite clearly by the Gibson’s was that they were not considered racist by the community’s African-American community and the city in general. Ortiz and another former Oberlin police officer said they dealt with Gibson’s on a daily basis, not because there was often trouble there, but because the downtown business area is very small and the police and business owners all know each other well.

Retired African-American Police Officer – “Gibson’s treated me just like they treat everyone else”

Henry Wallace, the city’s police department’s community service officer from 1984 to 2017, and who is also an African-American, told the jury “Gibson’s treated me just like they treat everyone else. They always treated everyone fairly and without any malice, and I say that because I have known them for more than 50 years.”

Oberlin News Tribune Reporter: Dean of Students handed me flyer, blocked me from taking photos

What became quite evident on the first day of testimony, however, is that the school seemed to perceive that they ran the town of Oberlin, and that the town was supposed to do what they were told to do. The city has a population of 8,000, and the school’s students and teachers and employees are half of that. This is a town that is only 35 miles from downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

That dominance was expressed by other witnesses. Jason Hawk, who was editor of the Oberlin News Tribune, with a print circulation of less than 1,000 in 2016, testified he was repeatedly blocked from taking photos of the protest by Dean Meredith Raimondo, and was handed a flyer calling Gibson’s racist by Raimondo. [You can read Hawk’s deposition testimony on Raimondo’s involvement here.]

[Flyer reportedly handed out by protesters outside Gibson’s Bakery]

Oberlin College Considers How To Get Charges Dropped Against Students

A deposition by former Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov said the school had about 400 people who live locally on a “no trespass” list, meaning those people were banned from setting foot anywhere on the school’s 440 acres.

Krislov said in parts of his videotaped deposition shown to the jury (he may testify in person later in the trial), that “a large number of the community were upset about it, because there were a disproportionate number of African-Americans on it.” (Krislov is now president of Pace University in New York City).

Amazingly, the school thought they could get Gibson’s and the city to drop the shoplifting charges against the three students, in exchange for the school business restored with Gibson’s. On December 02, 2017, less than a month after the protest, Tito Reed, set an email to her boss, Krislov, laying out how she thought things could be fixed. This is what the jury read today:

“So can we draft a legal agreement clearly stating that once charges are dropped the [purchase] orders [with Gibson’s] will resume. I’m baffled by their combined audacity and arrogance to assume the position of victim.”

The trial testimony will resume Monday. The jury is deciding if Oberlin College defamed and libeled Gibson’s, and if they decide they did, how much money they owe.

Daniel McGraw is a freelance writer and author in Lakewood, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @danmcgraw1

WAJ adds: Based on Dan’s reporting about the opening witnesses, it seems that the plaintiffs are following a tried and true tactic: Before you put on your own case, destroy the defense. In the opening statement, the defense counsel presented a view of the college officials as peacemakers, not driven by ill will towards the bakery. Of course there is a lot more testimony to be heard, but it appears that the plaintiffs went straight after this defense narrative as the opening shot.

[Featured Image: Oberlin College student Jonathan Aladin in police car after arrest, via Police body cam video.]

*  This subtitle originally contained the word “Former” employee. As the text indicates, the person is question remains employed. The subtitle has been corrected.


WAJ Note: We will have end-of-day wrap ups every day,and weekly wrap-ups on weekends. Of course, we will report on the verdict. This trial coverage is a project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. Your support to make this type of coverage possible is appreciated.


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Subotai Bahadur | May 10, 2019 at 11:00 pm

Just theoretically, it might be interesting to ponder what the reaction of the students and administration of Oberlin would be if the court hands them their collective gluts. Will they burn down Gibson’s [and part of the business district]? After all, the PC Universe would not allow them to lose. Will they quietly pay up? Will that precedent cause others to take colleges to court?

Subotai Bahadur

    JusticeDelivered in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | May 10, 2019 at 11:49 pm

    It sounds to be like Oberlin is in deep shit. They are clearly arrogant and tried to extort the bakery to cover for racist thieves.

    tom swift in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | May 11, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    Reaction? Maybe something thoughtful and profound. Like, say, stomping on the bagels.

    I’m sure they’ll have polished off the donuts already.

    Eric R. in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | May 11, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    I think the response will be the worst case possible — widespread violent rioting by leftist (particularly black) students, forcing riot control by National Guardsmen, possibly resulting in shootings, leading to a broader national riot, possibly a full out race war.

    That would be the intention of the violence. And I would say bring it on, and crush the Commie bastards.

PostLiberal | May 10, 2019 at 11:30 pm

Jason Hawk, who was editor of the Oberlin News Tribune, with a print circulation of less than 1,000 in 2016, testified he was repeatedly blocked from taking photos of the protest by Dean Meredith Raimondo, and was handed a flyer calling Gibson’s racist by Raimondo.

I am reminded of Melissa Click, the prof at the University of Missouri who called for “muscle” to remove a journalist.

I guess that Dean Reimundo was just trying to calm things down, by trying to make sure that no news of the protest came out. Dean Reimudo was just trying to make sure that Iowahawk’s description of journalism was carried out: “Journalism is about covering important stories. With a pillow, until they stop moving.”

It is apparent from the first day testimony, that the Oberlin administration fell into lockstep with the protestors. Considering stopping purchasing from Gibson’s because of the protests is not exactly neutral. Nor is trying to stop a journalist from taking photos exactly neutral,either.

Sounds to me as if Oberlin is going to lose. The only question is , how much?

    I hope it’s a whole lot!
    A message needs to be sent to the universities/colleges to rein in this pc nonsense.
    Students should not run higher ed.

    SouthPaw81 in reply to PostLiberal. | May 16, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Melissa Glick is the first person I thought of when I read that, too! It’s sad b/c I know Oberlin has great music program. I know a few of their alum – who will be former donors when I show them this fiasco.

Wow, I didn’t even know some of this, like the 2 ‘ladies’ trying to beat them up.

And HOLY SHIT the arrogance in that email. Their ‘audacity and arrogance to assume the position of victim’.

I’d like to say that this is a slam dunk for Gibsons, but you know that there are probably a couple big liberals on the jury.

    pst314 in reply to Olinser. | May 11, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Wow, I didn’t even know some of this, like the 2 ‘ladies’ trying to beat them up.

    Why, it’s almost as if the liberal-dominated news media want to protect vicious thugs. But that couldn’t be true, could it? After all, liberals are the world’s most peaceful and justice-loving people on Earth. /sarcasm

    Milhouse in reply to Olinser. | May 12, 2019 at 1:26 am

    It’s not a slam dunk at all for Gibson’s. They have to prove that specific factual allegations were made against them, by college employees who were acting at the time the college, and also that those specific allegations are what caused the damage they’ve clearly suffered. That’s going to be tough to do. “Gibson’s is racist” is not a specific allegation, so it’s not defamation. They may well succeed in proving this, and I hope they do, but it won’t be easy.

      SouthPaw81 in reply to Milhouse. | May 16, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      They also said ..”has a long history of racial profiling and discrimination.” that IS libel/slander. And they have the proof on the flier.

George_Kaplan | May 11, 2019 at 12:54 am

Well the testimony to date is very damning!

Oberlin College was so terrified of their own students that they sought to cut ties with Gibson’s. They sought to use their economic leverage to force the bakery to drop charges against their students. The student protest outside Gibson’s two days after Trump’s election was so dangerous that the Lorain County riot team was almost called and no school employees were observed attempting to control things. Despite the college narrative that their shoplifting students were victims of a violent race crime, the three students were actually the perpetrators of a violent assault. Despite Oberlin’s assertion that Gibson’s is racist, African-American members of the community do not consider it so as the bakery has treated all customers fairly and without any malice for decades. Dean Meredith Raimondo physically prevented the editor of the Oberlin News Tribune from taking photos and handed out flyers alleging Gibson’s is racist.

Unless the college has an amazing defence this testimony seems enough to drop the hammer on the college and take them for everything they can!!!

    Milhouse in reply to George_Kaplan. | May 12, 2019 at 1:27 am

    Unless the college has an amazing defence this testimony seems enough to drop the hammer on the college and take them for everything they can!!!

    Not yet. They haven’t even begun to make their case. As the Prof pointed out this is just destroying the defense first. In order to win they still have to prove very specific and narrow claims, and it will be tough to do.

Lena Dunham exemplifies the Oberlin mindset, no?

I hope this lawsuit bankrupts Oberlin. These cowardly, pandering administrators knew that it was their own thieving, violent black student shoplifters who were at fault, yet they were out on the street in front of Gibson’s with the rest of the student mob, handing out fliers falsely accusing Gibson’s of racism and pouring gasoline on the fire.

They deserve to get burned, and badly.

    Conservative Beaner in reply to Observer. | May 11, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Maybe not bankrupt but enough to hurt. Firing all the top administrators especially Meredith Raimondo who interfered with Jason Hawk’s right to cover the story.

    pst314 in reply to Observer. | May 11, 2019 at 10:52 am

    I am certain that any damages awarded to Gibson’s cannot possibly bankrupt Oberlin–its endowment is over $800 million. But lawsuits against individual members of the faculty and administration could cause them great financial harm and even bankrupt them, and that would indeed send a message.

    SouthPaw81 in reply to Observer. | May 16, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    I agree, I’m hoping for bankruptcy too – show other small liberal arts colleges the possible consequences for standing with liars and doubling down on their lies with lies of their own.

In a “normal” world, the shoplifters would have been expelled from school after pleading guilty because they violated the standards of student conduct.

In a normal world …

goddessoftheclassroom | May 11, 2019 at 10:08 am

My son’s alma mater, Washington and Lee University, has an honor code that includes:
“The dedication to behave honorably is not confined to academic life. It is expected that students will respect each other’s word and intellectual and personal property in the residence halls and the Greek houses, on the playing field, in the city of Lexington, wherever Washington and Lee students take themselves. This principled expectation provides the foundation for the community of trust which students seek to create not only in the academic sphere but also in life outside it as well.”

Oberlin’s honor code only addresses academic issues.

Oberlin clearly needs a good in-house lawyer:
1. To counsel them that universities are not above the law.
2. To counsel them that universities cannot undertake to substitute on-campus rules for community legal obligations.
3. To counsel them that affirmative action may work for college admissions, but not so well for a criminal defense.

I guess the “We can do anything we want. We’re college students!” poster from Animal House needs to be updated a bit.

Perhaps a nice pic of the students reacting to a large punitive verdict with “I guess we can’t do anything we want.”

    JusticeDelivered in reply to MajorWood. | May 11, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    I know they these students are young, but the worst players need to be straddled with damage debt which dwarfs their college debt, especially the three criminals who started the fiasco.

      MajorWood in reply to JusticeDelivered. | May 11, 2019 at 5:42 pm

      To be fair, the three students are just pawns in a much larger game of their own making. Sure, one of them committed a minor crime, and then the other two unadvisedly stepped in to make that crime much worse, but for the most part, the blame for the rest of it falls on students and staff agitators who sought to capitalize on the incident for their own ends. By their own hands, and by their own history/reputation, Oberlin College was trapped into acting as they did in order to maintain the edgy reputation which was already waning when I was there in the late 70’s. The mob protest was a shortcut back to relevancy for them. They wanted to be on the top of the anti-Trump mountain, and a protest in front of Gibsons which made the news was their lift ticket. It looked like easy money. The college overstepped, and now they were trapped. Their attempt to attract a pool of new socially-active students had failed, and to back-off created the possibility of losing those existing socially-active students. So they had to continue the appearance of a boycott, even if common sense (I know, that was hard to type) said otherwise.

      As always, the original crime is rarely the issue. It is the coverup and the spin fallout which takes a minor incident and builds it into an insurmountable barrier. While we’re all aware of the protests and the flyers and the disruption of commerce, what I found most interesting in the original complaint was the suggestion of attempts by the college to obtain control of the properties within the town that the Gibsons owned, and how a disruption of the business, can you spell racketeering, might induce the Gibsons to sell those properties. So what I at first interpreted as just stupidity could in fact be stupidity with a smidge of strategic malice.

      But what will be most revealing is whether any lessons will be learned by this. We all know why Hillarity lost, but most of the dems still don’t. So I wonder if Oberlin will continue with that trend, losing but not having a clue why, and therefore being unable to learn from it. Will they continue to double down even after the verdict is read?

This is the same behavior we see in to progressive fascists (Dems) in Congress. They think their motives are so pure that those who oppose them must be evil and laws are irrelevant.

Something that would change things in a hurry: hold the college trustees personally liable, as they are responsible for governing the institution.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to John M. | May 11, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    They are probably insured, so damages need to exceed the insurance limits by a few million.

What we are witnessing right now will down the road likely be viewed as just cocktail hour when “wrongful dismissal” suits are filed. There may in fact not be enough popcorn.

Perhaps I should apply to the neuroscience faculty since they will need to identify candidates with spines in the next crop of administrators.

I wonder how deep of a breath Krislov took when he hit the PA border. It had to feel good.

Until we hear the defense, we won’t really know how well the trial is going to Gibson’s, but so far the testimony is really damning for Oberlin.

Interesting point: the flyer depicted, which Raimondo was allegedly handing out, makes two statements about Gibson’s: “This is a racist establishment”; this is an opinion, and therefore not defamation. “With a long account of racial profiling and discrimination”; this is a specific factual allegation. Either this “long account” exists or it doesn’t, and the evidence is that it doesn’t. So the flyer is defamatory; the question is whether Raimondo, in handing it out, was acting for herself or for the college.