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CSUN protesters’ trial pending eleven months later

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Black Student Union secretary Justin Marks, protested against education budget cuts on the corner of Reseda Boulevard and Prairie Street in Northridge March 4, 2010. Sundial File Photo

Almost a year after last March’s “Day of Action” protests, in which an American Indian studies associate professor broke her arm, the trial for the students who were arrested has still not begun.  They appear in court today for a pre-trial hearing.

CSUN students Anthony Garcia, Jose Gomez, Justin Marks and Jonnae Thompson and Los Angeles Valley College student Angel Guzman are charged with failure to disperse the scene of a riot or illegal assembly, a misdemeanor offense.  Additionally, Garcia is charged with interfering with a peace officer.  Gomez is also charged with interfering with a peace officer as well as misdemeanor battery.

Conflicting accounts from police reports, students and Karren Baird-Olson, the professor who was injured at the protest, complicate the matter.

In prior negotiations, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich offered to drop charges against everyone but Gomez.  The CSUN students refused the deal, choosing to defend themselves collectively.  Michael Lee, lead attorney, said they have filed for an informal diversion, a process that suspends criminal proceedings and avoids a plea while the defendants complete requirements set by the court.

Volunteers from the National Lawyers Guild are representing the students.  In a written statement to the National Lawyers Guild, Lee said,  “The campus police … had the audacity to arrest and charge one of her (Baird-Olson) fellow demonstrators (Gomez) with assault, as he stepped in to help her, and blame her injuries on the demonstrators.”  He added, “In effect, we have an assault case where the victim denies the assault, but the case was filed anyway.”

In a letter obtained by the Daily Sundial through a California Public Records Act request, Dr. Harry Hellenbrand, provost and vice president for academic affairs asked Trutanich not to prosecute the students who were arrested.

“The students did transgress,” he wrote.  “But they did not do so for amusement of selfish gain.  They did so for civic benefit… So, as the chief academic officer at CSUN, I respectfully request that your office and the court not find for counts that can damage the students’ records.  At most, city attorney hearings would seem to be an appropriate expression of legal action…”

As the March 4, 2010 rally that was organized by the California Faculty Association was winding down in front of the Oviatt Library that evening, another protest was taking place less than a mile west of campus at the intersection of Reseda Boulevard and Prairie Street, where hundreds of protesters had gathered. About 30 to 40 protesters were sitting in the middle of the intersection, according to CSUN department of police services reports, obtained by the Daily Sundial.  Garcia, Gomez, Guzman, Marks, Thompson and Baird-Olson were among the protesters.

Police reports offer different takes on what happened in the intersection.

“As officers continued moving the skirmish line eastward, one of the main agitators (Jose Gomez) was selected … as someone who was inciting the crowd to an unsafe level,” one report states.  As the arrest team moved in to arrest Gomez, he “…grabbed an elderly female standing next to him (Baird-Olson) by the waist with his left arm and pulled her with him,” the report continues.

It does not say how Gomez was inciting the crowd or what constitutes an unsafe level.  Citing the ongoing investigation, the CSUN department of police services declined to comment.

“Several of the protesters began to spit on the officers on the skirmish line,” the report says.  “A second agitator, (Anthony Garcia), moved forward and attempted to pull (Gomez) away from the arrest team.”  Police officers were able to pull (Gomez) behind the skirmish line and place him under arrest, the report continues.  (Garcia) was also placed under arrest.

Baird-Olson’s upper-arm was broken around this time, based on reports.

Another report of the day’s events says:

“About 1829 hours we began an eastward push of the skirmish line to remove protesters from Reseda Boulevard, which was successful in moving the protesters to the east curb line.  During this period, five arrests (Garcia, Gomez, Guzman, Marks, Thompson) were made of protesters who failed to peaceably disperse … and one person who sustained an injury (Baird-Olson) during the arrest of an agitant.”

Yet another report states, “As the skirmish line pushed forward and arrest team entered the crowd to grab the agitator, I looked over and saw the large group of protesters pushing toward the officers and the officers pushing back.  (Baird-Olson) was stuck in between the officers and agitator/protesters.  Suddenly, (Baird-Olson) fell forward between two unknown skirmish line officers and hit the ground.”

The report continues:  “At this point, I ran over to see what happened and saw (Baird-Olson) being stepped on by protesters who continued their attempt to move forward in an apparent effort to push the officers back.”

The report says the captain attempted to locate witnesses at the scene of the accident but was not successful.

Gomez disputes the police’s accounts.

“I was not agitating the crowd,” he said.  “We were chanting ‘Peaceful protest’ the whole time.  And at no point did anyone spit on the police.”

He also disputes that he fell on Baird-Olson.

“The claim that I fell on her is not true,” he said.  “I didn’t hit the floor until they grabbed me and pulled me behind the skirmish line.”

He said he moved in to help Baird-Olson when she was injured.  He also said he was hit with a baton three times.

Garcia also disputes police services’ reports.

“At no point did I try to pull him (Gomez) away,” he said.  “The professor was on the ground and Jose (Gomez) was on top of her.  I was trying to help Jose up, off the professor.”

Garcia also disputes the police’s statements that protesters stepped on Baird-Olson.

“I was next to her,” he said.  “At no point did protesters step on her.”

Protesters did not spit on the police, Garcia added.

Baird-Olson also rejects police reports that her injuries were caused by Gomez or fellow protesters.

“They (police) have fabricated and lied,” she said.  “He (Gomez) saved my life.”

Hellenbrand said the university did not discipline the students for violations of the student conduct code.  The code, which all students are required to abide by, states that students can be disciplined for behavior that disrupts or obstructs university-related activities, or participating in activities that disrupt the normal operations of the university or the free flow of traffic on or leading to campus property.

“Our feeling was the overall spirit of the march was one we supported,” Hellenbrand said.  “We felt the spirit was strong enough to override minor infractions against the campus code.”

Related stories:

CSUN participating in a ‘Day of Action’

CSUN’s protest and walkout from Thursday recapped

Professor injured during the March 4 protest speaks

Protesters head to court to support CSUN students arrested during March 4 walkout

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20 Comments

  1. Elias Serna Feb 20, 2011

    The sad thing about Right Wing libertarian and the Cheeseburglar/ big mac, is that they refuse to acknowledge racism, police brutality and other injustices. What’s worse is the class warfare we are experiencing, which I doubt they understand: while the Federal government bailed out the banks and just gave tax cuts to the wealthy, the financial crisis of higher education is being paid for at the expense of students, the most vulnerable members of campus communities. They have every right to protest. I applaud their vision and their struggle for the future students. Theirs is the higher moral ground. Tea baggers should reflect on their social-economic class interests for starters. Then relate to other oppressed groups. Knowledge not ignorance will free us all.

    1. TheAntiV Feb 20, 2011

      Actually, we just tend to look at things skeptically and with a level of critical thinking without resorting to this knee-jerk reaction of blindly accusing people of racism due to the circumstances involved.

      I’d suggest you read The Closing? of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. It might help with the situation.

    2. BigMac Feb 21, 2011

      sanctimonious much?

    3. I most certainly do acknowledge racism, police brutality and other injustices. I just think they’re a minor problem whereas you likely blame them for the majority of your woes.

      As for “tax cuts to the wealthy,” the top-earning 5 percent of taxpayers (AGI over $159,619), paid far more than the bottom 95 percent. The top 5 percent earned 34.7 percent of the nation’s adjusted gross income, but paid approximately 58.7 percent of federal individual income taxes. Source: http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html . But you’re not grateful for the “wealthy” who subsidize your education; you want them to pay more.

      And please be more respectful of the Tea Party members. They are not “tea baggers”; they are mostly ordinary folks who want to rein in the ever-expanding federal govermnent that ignores the Constitution.

  2. Elias Serna Feb 20, 2011

    The sad thing about Right Wing libertarian and the Cheeseburglar/ big mac, is that they refuse to acknowledge racism, police brutality and other injustices. What’s worse is the class warfare we are experiencing, which I doubt they understand: while the Federal government bailed out the banks and just gave tax cuts to the wealthy, the financial crisis of higher education is being paid for at the expense of students, the most vulnerable members of campus communities. They have every right to protest. I applaud their vision and their struggle for the future students. Theirs is the higher moral ground. Tea baggers should reflect on their social-economic class interests for starters. Then relate to other oppressed groups. Knowledge not ignorance will free us all.

  3. BigMac Feb 17, 2011

    Oh no, the horror! My actions have consequences. The laws that were broken had nothing to do with what was being protested. The police are not the enemy. Their concern was for public safety. The protesters thought a little anarchy would call attention to their cause.

  4. I WAS THERE Feb 17, 2011

    I am really disappointed with the article published by the Sundial on regards to the unjust arrests of 4 CSUN students and a LAVCC student, as well as the brutalization of a American Indian Studies Professor. The publication is not making a fair approach this delicate matter because the students are still wrongfully charged with misdemeanors and any information will affect the case. The article fails to mention the poor response and support by the CSUN administration, especially, the lack of involvement of Dr. Kester. Dr. Kester made the remarks in one of the meetings, paraphrasing, “I do not work for the students, I am paid to administer the school budget and respond to Chancellor Charles Reed.” The article highlights the poor little involvement of the administration to make it stand out in behalf of those in charge of the CSUN police department. The CSUN police department is paid with the school’s budget; should the administration asked the police to deal with this unjust case at a CSUN community level, all the false accusations would have been removed. It is also interesting how the CSUN police decided not to comment in regards to the case, and how the article’s author decided to include quotes that were discussed, I was there. I think that connecting this article with the one published last semester “Starve the Beast” make the sundial a exorbitant news paper hat requires better writers who look for exposing the truth instead of looking for publicity by creating controversy. Hear, research, confirm, write, publish. CSUN UNITE.

  5. Anonymous Feb 16, 2011

    It is sad that these students followed the O.J. Simpson criminal court template: Commit the crime and get a lot of lawyers to keep you from being held accountable for your actions. What a said day for CSUN. Congratulations, Mr. Acuna. You must be proud of your students.

    1. Racuna Feb 17, 2011

      I am very proud of my students. they are honorable people who care about university access for their sisters, brothers and cousins as well as students of all colors who being squeezed out of higher education. they also take responsibility for their actions. They were concerned when a 74 year old professor was punched in the mouth by an lapd officer, thrown to the grown and stomped on. the difference between us is that we care about people’s rights.

  6. Racuna Feb 16, 2011

    I never cease to be amazed by the uncritical reporting done by the mainstream media and the Sundial. There is no contextualization. First, the police mobilization was gigantic given that everyone knew that mostly students would be involved. Not only did the campus police participate but the lapd and the highway patrol were involved. More than 50 patrol cars were put on alert. Overkill? Second, student organizations such as mecha have been under police surveillance since the summer of 2009. The CSU system wants to contain student dissent over escalating tuition costs. Our campus police worked with the Devonshire Police who directed the action. Third, the Sundial story is factually incorrect and in fact alters reality. The original report was by the lapd and only later did the campus police take ownership. What is ignored is that Bair-Olsen, a 74 year old woman professor was struck in the face by an lapd officer. Gomez tried to shield her and she was dragged to the street by an officer and stomped on. The professor has testified to this and gomez had no part in the assault. It is evident that the campus police is attempting to shield the lapd from liability. Fourth, the six that faced charges were all minority group students; all the white defendants were released. No explanation has been offered. In the past this has been the case when a police provocateur was among the officers. Fifth, I am relieved that Provost Hilderbrand finally took a principled stance. He is a man of principle although his job often pressures him to comply. Sixth, I am deeply troubled by the actions of Latino officers during this event. When I arrived over 42 years ago there were no Latino campus police. Reluctantly they hired two, Rudy, a Chicano, and Juanita, an African American, who suffered blatant discrimination. Chicanas/os pressured and lobbied for changes. Today there are minority officers who have no sense of history nor appreciation for the past. More to the point they are participating in the cover-up on what happened on March 4, 2010. When all is said and done, Baird-Olsen, was brutalized and has two steel rods in her arms. She was hit in the face by an officer of the law. And the six defendants who suffered disparate treatment have had to suffer lies and the pressure of being persecuted for over a year. Everyone should thank the National Lawyers Guild and public defender Mike Lee for their tireless work.

    Rodolfo F. Acuña, PhD
    Professor Emeritus, Chicana/o Studies

    1. Even the Sundial is too wise to buy your fantastical stories and conspiracy theories. Why don’t you show the media all your evidence so they can expose all of this oppression?

      1. CSUN UNITE Feb 17, 2011

        David. It is clear that your conservative rhetoric line bout conspiracy theories, is out of date. Mike Moore, AlGore, and Dr. Acuna’s history book “Occupied America” make these REAL, not fictitious stories, public to to those that want to recognize them and learn about them. Thank You Dr. Acuna for all your work in 42 years. CSUN is a great place for critical thinking and critical debate, your contributions to academia are really appreciated. Thank you.

        1. TheAntiV Feb 18, 2011

          And Michael Moore never tells fictitious stories right? Obviously Dr. Acuna isn’t contributing much to critical thought if you’re unquestionably loyal to the claims to the individuals you just mentioned.

      2. Racuna Feb 17, 2011

        We have enough stupid people in this world. In Spanish we have an expression: Hablar a lo pendejo. before you talk, find out the facts. talk to baird-olsen. talk to the deputy chief of the lapd who admitted that the officers had exceed their authority in their surveillance of mecha. i respect students but not idiots.

        1. TheAntiV Feb 18, 2011

          Classy ad-hominem there.

      3. Racuna Feb 17, 2011

        We have enough stupid people in this world. In Spanish we have an expression: Hablar a lo pendejo. before you talk, find out the facts. talk to baird-olsen. talk to the deputy chief of the lapd who admitted that the officers had exceed their authority in their surveillance of mecha. i respect students but not idiots.

    2. You’re a class act, Professor Acuna. I’m letting all of the readers know that you sent out spam via your CSUN e-mail account apparently to all the Hispanic-appearing names you could find at CSUN–the spam being your Sundial comment posted above along with a link to the Sundial article.

      Yes, readers, he titled his spam “Injustice!” and sent it out this afternoon to some 150 to 200 people. Along with the CSUN accounts, there were others as well–probably his radicial brethren or known sympathizers.

      Don’t worry too much, though, Mr. Acuna, radical CSUN professors can get away with pretty much anything.

      1. Racuna Feb 17, 2011

        i am sorry to say that you are not a class act. i identify myself, you do not. the emails were not sent to you but to chicano studies professors and alumni. so how could you know to whom i sent the emails?

        1. Staff Feb 23, 2011

          Not true. I got one too and I have never been a Chicano Studies student nor alumni. I don’t know you and don’t know why I got this spam.

      2. CSUN UNITE Feb 17, 2011

        Professor Acuna is an example of someone who uses media for the advancement of your intellectual being. You, unidentified, should thank professor Acuna because of the commitment to justice, and responsibility to truth. I am guessing you counted the e-mails one by one. Thanks for your work and for the efforts of keeping the CSUN community informed Dr. Acuna. And for the unidentified writer, CSUN has around 10,000 Latino/a and Chicano/a students, not 150 to 200 as you suggested.

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