Tuesday, August 24, 1999

MU defendants cite rights




BY STEVE KEMME
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OXFORD — Attorneys for two black former Miami University students said in court Monday that the university violated their right to freedom of speech by prosecuting them for allegedly posting racist and anti-gay messages on campus as a hoax.

        Attorneys for Nathaniel Snow and Brad M. Allen asked Judge Rob Lyons of Butler County Area I Court to dismiss charges of criminal mischief and criminal trespassing against them because of alleged “selective prosecution.”

        “They are prosecuting them for their speech, which violates their constitutional rights,” said defense attorney Kenneth Lawson, who emphasized that the two students are not admitting they posted the signs.

        Miami University President James C. Garland testified at the hearing that the university had no intention of suppressing anyone's First Amendment rights when it filed criminal charges for the messages posted in Miami's Center for Black Culture and Learning last October.

        “I wanted to see them prosecuted because it seemed to be a deliberate attempt to inflame racial hostility on campus,” Dr. Garland said.

        Judge Lyons will rule on the motion to dismiss charges after the prosecution presents its evidence in the trial, which began Monday.

        The posting of the fliers fueled a Nov. 10 protest by 100 students, most of them black, who linked arms and stopped traffic at U.S. 27 and Ohio 73.

        Mr. Snow, who was president of the Black Student Action Association, and Mr. Allen, who participated in the Nov. 10 protest, withdrew from Miami Jan. 20 when university officials confronted them with evidence against them.

        In almost an hour of questioning, Mr. Lawson tried to nudge Dr. Garland into say ing that the content of the posted messages caused Miami to file criminal charges against the two students.

        But Dr. Garland said the inflammatory content of the fliers was only one of several reasons for prosecuting the students.

        The racial turmoil on campus caused by the fliers and the circumstances surrounding the posting of the fliers also contributed to the decision to prosecute, he said. The fliers were posted in a building that was closed and on a weekend when parents were scheduled to visit the Center for Black Culture and Learning. “It was timed to maximize racial division,” Dr. Garland said.

       



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