Posted Oct 27, 2019 at 16:00. Revised Jun 10, 2021 at 09:37.
The major issues
The student demonstrations caused the College to cancel the approximately 100-year dining hall baked goods contract between Gibson’s and the College. This substantial contract made the College Gibson’s biggest customer, so the amount of money at stake was large. The College canceled this agreement on the presumption that the racism accusations against the Gibsons were accurate and that racism was centrally relevant to baking and selling donuts.
Gibson’s asks the College to retract the racism smear
The Gibsons wanted the College to apologize for claiming that the Gibsons were racists and publicly retract the racism claim. The College refused to back off on the racism claim even though the College could not offer any convincing evidence supporting this claim.
In the civil trial, the College did not introduce convincing evidence that the Gibsons were racist or that the effort to stop the shoplifter involved racism. Allyn D. Gibson might have used excessive force to restrain the shoplifter. If so, the College did not introduce any evidence of excessive force during the trial. In short, there is no evidence that the restraint was racially motivated.
Raimondo demands de facto vigilante powers
According to most sources, Dean Meridith Raimondo insisted that any reconciliation agreement include turning over future shoplifting students to the College (i.e., to Raimondo) rather than turning them over to the Oberlin Police. Meredith denies that she took this position, but the May 21, 2019 Trial Transcript, pp. 172-73, indicates that Meridith requested that she be notified ahead of the police. Technically, she was not asking for vigilante power. By requesting that she be the first link in the prosecutorial chain, she was pre-empting the normal legal processes.
There was a problem with Raimondo’s demand for jurisdiction over shoplifters that the Gibsons could not accept. The Gibsons’ lawyer presumably told the Gibsons that Raimondo’s effort to bypass law enforcement by taking over the functions of the courts could get legally messy very fast.
It is unlikely that Raimondo realized it, but she asked for de facto vigilante power (i.e., the authority to bypass the legal system). The College told the Gibson’s that business would return to normal only if the Gibson’s agreed to participate in Raimondo’s vigilante justice system. The College’s refusal to back off from the vigilante justice demand ended the reconciliation efforts.
The president of the College at the time and the College’s General Counsel were both lawyers who should have known better than to gloss over a vigilante justice request. The two lawyers going along with this were both officers of the College who could have quickly stopped this crazy twist of events.
Raimondo’s demand for de facto vigilante power over shoplifters was a particularly odd one considering that the Police had always handled law enforcement matters until this point. The Police and prosecutor usually worked out a negotiated deal between themselves, the Gibsons, and the shoplifter when it was legally possible to do so. No one wanted a kid to have a permanent record for a relatively minor infraction. As long as a shoplifting incident was a misdemeanor, the municipal judge and prosecutor had considerable discretion in handling the matter.
Shoplifting becomes serious
Unfortunately, the shoplifter had assaulted two members of the Gibson family and threatened the life of one of them. Hence the incident was potentially a felony rather than a misdemeanor, so Oberlin’s municipal judge and the prosecutor did not have jurisdiction. The students were turned over to the Lorain County Common Pleas Court to be tried as criminals and were convicted.
The shoplifter and his two accomplices agreed that there was no racism in the Gibsons’ actions. Many in Oberlin saw involving a criminal court in the case as an outrage, but the law is the law.
Let the litigation begin!
/s/ JD Nobody (he, him), OC ’61.