Student protestors acquitted

The 17 Living Wage Campaign protesters arrested for trespassing at Madison Hall during their sit-in last April were successful in both General District Court and in their dealings with the UJC this summer. All 17 students were acquitted in General District Court proceedings on Monday, May 22, and weeks later, some among the 17 protesters successfully appealed the sanctions handed down by their peers at the University.

According to Living Wage Campaign organizer Benjamin Van Dyne, some of the students expressed dissatisfaction with the UJC sanctions, which asked that students write letters of apology to Madison Hall staff and administrators as well as the police, and that they thank administrators for facilitating dialogue among those involved in the heated debate over implementation of a "living wage" of $10.72 for University employees.

"We were put in an impossible situation," Van Dyne said, citing the fact that to apologize for a "dialogue" among administrators and students that the protesters did not believe existed in the first place would have been a blatant violation of the Honor Code.

Student protestor Katrina Salmons, among those students found guilty of violating various Standards of Conduct by the UJC, said appeals were filed May 15 in order to address this problem.

"We felt that to write letters to the administration and police thanking them for their 'patience and willingness for dialogue to insure our safety' was to be disingenuous on our part," Salmons said in June. "We thought that the UJC had room to give us a more appropriate sanction that wouldn't require us to go back on what we believed."

Thus some of the students appealed the sanctions, and were willing to write letters of apology only to Madison Hall staff. Ultimately, the appeals were successful, Van Dyne said, adding that a number of students opted to comply with the UJC's sanctions rather than file appeals because they needed their degrees in hand in order to secure future employment opportunities.

The Living Wage Campaign declined to release the names of those students who successfully filed appeals.

While the protesters were found guilty by a panel of student jurors in a UJC trial, they were found not guilty of trespassing when tried in General District Court May 22. Judge Robert Downer, Jr. handed down the acquittal after hearing hours of testimony, including that of Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Dean of Students Penny Rue, Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs and University and Charlottesville police officers

Downer also viewed video footage of Sandridge's address to protesting students in the minutes preceding the arrests, as well as during the arrests.

Downer acquitted the students on the grounds that they were denied the five minutes promised to them by Sandridge to leave Madison Hall and avoid arrest. As demonstrated by the videotape played in court, Sandridge announced to protesting students that they had five minutes to leave the building, accept summons or face arrest. Only four minutes later, Charlottesville police entered and commenced arresting students.

"I'm not going to find someone guilty for not leaving when they weren't given five minutes," Downer said. "Five minutes means five minutes."

Hours after the trial, University President John T. Casteen, III, who testified at the trial, said in an e-mail that he had no reaction to the proceedings, but that he was pleased the students did not incur criminal records.

"In that we do not want students to accumulate criminal convictions in the course of their time here, we are glad for them," he said.

At the time of the protest, the acquitted students were fourth-year College students Shawn Casey, Carmen Comsti, Lauren Cruickshank, Lauren Jones, Sam Kroiz, Hannah Rubenstein, Katrina Salmons and Khalial Withen; third-year college students Sean Butterfield, Seth Croft, Zack Fields and Jillian Villars; and second-year College students Teresa Daniels, Andrew Mausert-Mooney, Nina Robbins, John Salidis, and Kevin Simowitz.

Anthropology Prof. Wende Marshall, who entered Madison Hall despite instructions to remain outside the building during the sit-in, was absolved as well. Marshall, found guilty of trespassing, was sentenced to 10 days in prison pending two years of good behavior in General District Court in May. Defense attorney Steve Rosenfield stated after the trial that an appeal of this conviction was "highly unlikely." However, when he appeared in court a week later to file an appeal, the Commonwealth dropped all charges.

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