In an email statement to students, faculty and staff, Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers defended his department’s decision to arrest 70 students at a sit-in on Feb. 1.
The students called on OU President Roderick McDavis to declare OU a sanctuary campus at the protest that evening and refused to leave the fourth floor lobby of Baker Center after Powers warned them to leave several times through a megaphone.
The students were charged with trespassing. Twenty-one have pleaded not guilty at court appearances this week. If found guilty, they face a maximum fine of $250 and a maximum jail sentence of 30 days in addition to community standards sanctions.
In his statement, Powers argued the sit-in was “unlawful” because it blocked movement through Baker Center and would have made it difficult to evacuate the area in case of emergency.
“Much has been made of the fact that the protest was peaceful, a fact I don’t dispute. However, peaceful does not always mean legal,” Powers wrote.
Supporters of the arrested demonstrators have argued that the sit-in did not block foot traffic through the building because demonstrators cleared pathways for people to walk through.
Powers wrote that the department faced a “no-win” situation on Feb. 1. If officers had not arrested the demonstrators, they would have faced criticism for not maintaining control if the situation turned violent, he said.
Both Student Senate and Faculty Senate passed resolutions at their most recent meetings asking that the charges against the 70 arrested students be dropped. In his statement, Powers said he believes the court system provides its own impartial legal review.
“To that end, I believe the proper course of action is to allow that review to take place — as we do with everyone else we arrest each year — rather than subverting our judicial process by dropping the charges,” he wrote.
Powers encouraged organizers of future demonstrations to reach out to police to plan “safe and legal demonstrations.”
The department will be reaching out to campus groups and offering to meet with people concerned about the arrests, according to the statement.
“Our officers work at OUPD by choice, not by assignment,” he wrote. “Every one of us is here because we have chosen to be a part of this university and the larger community and we are committed to it.”