Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College – Trial Day 2 – “I don’t know” may come back to haunt the defense
A flyer accusing the bakery of illegal and racist conduct became the centerpiece of the cross examination of the college’s Dean of Students.
You can read about some of the background on this case here.
Good trial lawyers like to get seminal moments before the jury early on in their cases, and Ohio attorney Lee Plakas was able to do that today. In some ways, in something seldom seen, he created evidence to present.
Plakas represents Gibson’s Bakery & Market and its owners in their lawsuit against Oberlin College and its Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo. Gibson’s claims defendants had a role in them being defamed as racists and assaulting the shoplifters — three African-American Oberlin undergrad students — who were shoplifting or assisting in shoplifting, in November 2016.
Multiple witness have testified in the first two days of trial to say the family and the business are not racists – many of them law enforcement personnel and African-Americans who have known the family for 40 years or more — and it was the shoplifters who were charged with assaulting a Gibson’s employee, not the other way around
So the longtime plaintiffs’ trial lawyer called the Oberlin College Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo to the stand to speak to these issues of Gibson’s being racist and an assaulter of young thieves. Raimondo is a defendant in this case in addition to her employer, and she was called by the plaintiffs as an “adverse witness,” meaning she can still be called by the defendants later on the defendants’ case.
Plakas did something very simple. He read a sentence from a flyer that was passed out at a protest outside the bakery that week of the shoplifting. It was a flyer Raimondo admitted she had passed out. The line on the flyer Plakas was focused on was this: “A member of our community was assaulted by the owner of this establishment yesterday.”Plakas presented her with a paper that asked her if she “agreed” or “disagreed” with that statement about assault, and to check the proper box. Raimondo hemmed and hawed a bit, but then said her answer was “I don’t know.” So Plakas wrote “I don’t know” on the paper and asked her to sign her name as to that being her answer.
She didn’t want to put her signature on it. But she agreed to initial her “I don’t know” designation.
He did different variations of this three more times and she said she didn’t know each time and initialed the papers.
That wasn’t enough for Plakas, though, as he seemed to have realized he may have struck some gold here. He then pulled out the Oberlin College’s Student Senate resolution passed a day after the shoplifting event, and pulled out this gem from that: “Gibson’s has a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike.” Once again, Rainmondo was asked if she “agreed” or “disagreed” with that statement. She again answered, “I don’t know,” and Plakas brought the next group of papers up to her to initial.
The last evidentiary papering of the witness occurred when she was asked if there were negative consequences from being accused unjustly of either assaulting people or being racist when you aren’t. Agree or disagree. This time, she said her answers was “I think it depends on the circumstances.”
Once again, she initialed and it seems like everyone in the courtroom was shocked at what they had observed. The Dean of Students at a prominent liberal arts college, who had been at this protest and passed out that very flyer that claimed the business owners has unjustly assaulted students, and was the advisor to the student senate that said the little bakery had a “history or racial profiling,” told the jury that “I don’t know” and “it depends on the circumstances” if such accusations were bad for one who is the subject of the attack.
Where all this originated was when an Oberlin College male student and his two female student friends were involved in being caught shoplifting wine at Gibson’s on Nov. 9, 2016. A scuffle occurred both inside and outside the store, before the three were arrested. This all happened the day after Donald Trump was elected president, and the resulting protest by 150-200 students on Nov. 10-11 was a “mob mentality” outside the store, according to testimony by the first police officer there.
That same former Oberlin Police officer, Victor Ortiz, testified that the assault was not something the Gibson’s employee as taking part in, except as the victim of assault. “When we got there, we saw two young ladies standing over [the Gibson employee] and throwing haymakers at him,” he 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 him on his back, with the male [shoplifter] on top of him and punching him.”
One of the themes of this lawsuit is that Oberlin College was trying to cater to a segment of its students – either radical social justice warriors or minorities or the rudimentary minds of some college students who love any and all angst – and side with them in this time of cultural and political partisanship. The attorneys for Gibson’s are emphasizing repeatedly that the school lost its basic understanding of what the adult in the room is supposed to do, and a small business that has been serving the school as a food provider and city business treasure for more than 100 years was damaged as an innocent bystander business in the process.
Some of these themes came out as Raimondo’s testimony ended for the day (she will be back tomorrow morning).
The plaintiffs have insinuated that the school ended the business deal they had with Gibson’s (for some cafeteria grub and meeting party trays) because the business had refused to drop the legal charges against the students. Emails to and from Raimondo, and other high ranking Oberlin College administrators, had said that their food contract would have resumed “had the Gibson’s been willing to support a resolution outside of the legal system.”
Another email said, “once charges are dropped, orders will resume” and that students “will find [resuming orders] hard to accept” without the charges being dropped. Another email stated that school cannot settle with Gibson’s by “giving them everything and getting nothing in return.”
Raimondo responded that this discussion of resuming business with Gibson’s was decided by a group of administrators and she “didn’t know what the legal matter were” at that time.
If all this wasn’t enough for Oberlin College not to be pleased with the evidence presented today, the plaintiffs also called, Rick McDaniel, the director of security for Oberlin College from 1980 to 1995. He still lives in the city and is very active in community groups.
McDaniel said he had known the Gibson family for close to 40 years, and “never heard or observed, never been an allegation or gossip, about the Gibson’s being racist.” Vicky Gaines, an Oberlin College staff nurse in the school’s health care facility, and an African-American Oberlin city native, also told the jury “I’ve known them for about 40 years, our kids played together, we go to their sporting event, eat at each other’s homes, no, never even heard of the thought of as being racist.”
Gaines said she also went downtown to the protest, went inside the store, and gave a big hug to Lorna Gibson, wife of David Gibson, one of the plaintiffs in this case. “I walked outside with her so we could look together at what I saw happening, and I wanted her to know people in the community in Oberlin were behind them on this,” she said. “She was distraught, very hurt, and you could see the pain in their faces from what was happening right outside their store.”
McDaniel also went downtown when he heard the protests had started. He said when he got to the small downtown he noticed a large group of students, which he described as “Anger. Noise, Venom … [students] very angry and disturbed and irate and they wanted to take it out on somebody.”
McDaniel said he started taking pictures with his cell phone, and a young man came up to him and started blocking his phone with flyers in his hand. McDaniel said he kept moving and the man moved with him, blocking his ability to take picture over and over. “I’m with the college,” the man answered when the former Oberlin College police chief asked him why he was blocking his ability to take pictures.
McDaniel testified he found out later the man hounding him over picture taking was Julio Reyes, associate director of the school’s multi-resource center. “He was attempting to intimidate me and I don’t intimidate easily,” McDaniel said.
“I told him ‘I’m going to just going to wait until your silly ass leaves and [I’ll] start taking pictures again without you trying to block me,.’ “McDaniel testified. “He answered that he was going to come back when I wasn’t looking and key my car.”
When asked if he saw Oberlin administration officials trying to “deescalate the crisis” as they have said they were doing, McDaniel looked straight at the jury and said, “No one from Oberlin College was trying to calm things down. The only reason the lid didn’t explode off the pot was because the city police were there.”
[Featured Image: Protesters against Gibson’s Bakery, via YouTube]
Daniel McGraw is a freelance writer and author in Lakewood, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @danmcgraw1
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