October 4, 2005

Judge Throws Out Resisting Arrest Charge

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After a hearing held yesterday in Ithaca City Court, Judge Judith A. Rossiter dismissed the resisting arrest charge, a class A misdemeanor, that five of the “Redbud Eight” were to face in a jury trial beginning today.

In a six-page decision, People of the State of New York v. Jordan S. Wells, et al., Rossiter dismissed the charges in the interest of justice. The students were involved in the occupation of the office of President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 in April. They were protesting the parking lot now under construction at Redbud Woods, at the intersection of University and Stewart Avenues.

According to Rossiter’s opinion, “A motion to dismiss in the Interest of Justice is proper when one or more factors suggest that prosecution or conviction of the defendant(s) ‘would constitute or result in injustice.’ These factors generally arise from the defendant’s personal situation, misconduct in the state’s investigation, arrest, or prosecution, or, in rare cases, mandatory punishment disproportionate to the defendant and the offense committed.”

The five defendants, Kjirsten Alexander ’07, Sun columnist Danny Pearlstein ’05, Daisy Torres ’05, Jordan Wells ’07 and Patrick Young ’06 will face a non-jury trial at a later date for the trespassing violation that they continue to face.

Rossiter explained in her decision that there was no way to distinguish the five defendants from the other three of the “Redbud Eight,” Amelia Apfel ’08, Laura McIntyre ’08 and Ethan Middlebrooks ’07, who were only charged with trespassing.

“It … does not appear that only those charged with being carried out by Cornell University Police Officers were charged with resisting arrest because it appears that one or more in the middle [Apfel, McIntyre, Middlebrooks] was carried out but charged only with trespass and only one in the circle [Alexander, Pearlstein, Torres, Wells, Young] was carried out but all five were charged with resisting arrest,” she wrote.

Rossiter wrote that “perhaps [the] most important” element of the decision was “the attitude of the Complainant [Cornell].”

In an agreement signed on July 18, Cornell administrators agreed to “speak with appropriate authorities about the charges pending related to the incidents of the sit-in in 300 Day Hall in April 2005 and their disposition.”

She explained that Wells submitted a “written message from Cornell Vice President [of Student and Academic Services] Susan Murphy [’74], in which she indicated that Cornell University preferred that the cases against these defendants be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal (ACD’d).”

“In response … the [assistant district attorney] submitted an affirmation in which he stated … that ‘Cornell administration has never requested that the People move to dismiss or offer and [sic] ACD of criminal charges in the Redbud cases,'” she wrote.

However, according to Rossiter’s opinion, “… Murphy submitted a sworn affidavit, indicating that she did in fact request, on behalf of the University that the charges be ACD’d, together with a copy of an e-mail received by her from District Attorney [George] Dentes [’76] declining to do so.”

Dentes’ e-mail states, “You have asked whether we are willing to treat the Day Hall protesters in the same manner as the construction site protesters. We decline to do so and will insist that they plead guilty as charged. I understand that this position may be disappointing to you, but please consider the uniqueness of the situation. … The defendants were defiant in the face of [an] offer of leniency and wanted to be arrested, and they were, and in our view should now face conviction and punishment for the crimes committed, rather than something less.”

“Given those exchanges, it is difficult to understand the basis for the prosecution’s claim that no such request was made,” explained Rossiter.

Rossiter also explained that while there were allegations of police injuries while removing the students from Day Hall, there is “no indication whether those injuries were sustained while officers were removing one of the five co-defendants … or one of the three other students charged only with trespass.”

According to the opinion, “the assistant district attorney argues that the charges were being prosecuted in part to avoid the appearance that five while college students would get a better deal than other defendants in the Court.”

“In actual fact, in this court, the ADA quite frequently reduces charges to disorderly conduct in cases in which a defendant runs from police or struggles during the handcuffing process or otherwise resists without directly injuring an officer. It is fair to say that a number of these defendants are African American or Latino, so that in this case, these students would be treated more harshly than those,” Rossiter explained.

In addition, the opinion discussed the positive character and condition of the students.

Rossiter found no evidence of law enforcement personnel misconduct, despite Wells and Pearlstein’s allegations that handcuffs were applied in an improper manner: “There is no compelling evidence that such problems were caused by the cuffs rather than the contraption that the students used to attach themselves to one another.”

“We are satisfied with the decision handed down [yesterday]. It fulfills what we have been seeking from the very beginning. We will continue to work with all parties for the final resolution of this matter,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president for University communications.

Alexander, Pearlstein, Torres, Wells and Young declined to comment.

Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun Managing Editor