Fifteen of the 70 Ohio University students arrested under the charge of criminal trespassing during the Baker sit-in Feb. 1 pleaded “no contest” at the Athens County Municipal Court on Thursday morning and accepted a reduced charge of disorderly conduct.
“We want to make it clear that pleading ‘no contest’ and accepting the deal was not an admission of guilt, but rather a strategic step for the larger movement,” Grant Stover, who accepted the plea, said in a news release from the OU Student Union. “We are accepting this deal to direct attention back to where it should be — on the need for a sanctuary campus.”
A group of about 300 people gathered in front of the Athens Courthouse on Feb. 1 to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The protesters began marching down Court Street through traffic to Baker University Center at about 5 p.m., where they congregated on the fourth and fifth floors. They said they planned to occupy Baker until university officials declared OU a “sanctuary campus,” a non-legal term used to limit cooperation with federal immigration services.
At approximately 7:25 p.m., OU Police Chief Andrew Powers announced officers would soon begin arresting individuals who did not leave the area after creating what OUPD later called an “unsafe condition” in a news release on Twitter. OUPD began arresting people who did not comply with their request at about 8 p.m.
Those students were charged with criminal trespassing, a fourth-degree misdemeanor that could lead to up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.
OU interim President David Descutner sent an email to students, faculty and staff Wednesday in support of OUPD’s decision not to drop the charges, though he did acknowledge students’ rights to protest.
Fifteen of those students accepted the plea deal at Athens County Municipal Court on Thursday morning, while five requested a bench trial, a trial by judge rather than a trial by jury. The other individuals who were arrested requested for their trial to be deferred and did not waive their right to a jury.
“In order to preserve our rights as students and community members to protest in public spaces, I think it is important for some of us to continue to challenge the charges against us,” Hazel Goodburn, who requested a bench trial, said in the news release. “We believe that this is a vital right that will become increasingly important over the course of the next four years.”
The OU Student Union said it does not see taking the plea deal as a “submission” or a “loss.”
“To everyone who has supported and continues to support us, thank you,” OU Student Union said in the news release. “Together we will continue working to build a campus community that is safe for all international persons regardless of documentation status. We hope you join us in this struggle.”