On Monday, Michael Mayberry, an organizer of the Baker Center sit-in, was found not guilty of criminal trespassing.
Mayberry is one of 70 individuals whom Athens law enforcement arrested on Feb. 1 at a Baker sit-in protest. He was the first to go to bench trial, which is trial by judge, not jury. In Ohio, criminal trespassing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor and carries a maximum of $250 in fines with the possibility of up to 30 days in prison.
At the protest, students and residents expressed grievances against President Donald Trump and his executive orders, specifically the order that banned people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S.
Out of the 70 arrested, 15 pleaded “no contest” to a minor misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. A no contest plea is where the defendant neither disputes nor admits to doing the crime.
Mayberry was represented by City Council Member Patrick McGee, I-At Large, who is the managing attorney for Student Legal Services.
The protest began in the early afternoon of Feb. 1 when protesters gathered at the Athens County Courthouse. From there, participants moved up Court Street toward Baker Center and proceeded to stage a sit-in, where individuals sang and chanted a list of demands.
Lt. Tim Ryan of the Ohio University Police Department wrote that officers arrived at 5 p.m. to a “report of a large group blocking the fourth floor lobby.” At 7:20 p.m., he said OUPD “advised the group that their gathering in the lobby was unsafe and unlawful.” Arrests were then made around 8 p.m.
At Mayberry’s trial, City Prosecutor Tracy Meek deliberated for OUPD Chief Andrew Powers, who said protesters taking up space in Baker Center was a volatile situation.
However, Athens County Municipal Judge Todd Grace thought otherwise.
“Michael Mayberry engaged in constitutionally protected speech and assembly in the Baker Center rotunda,” he wrote in the written report of his ruling. “The state failed to prove that the defendant lacked privilege, therefore the defendant cannot be found guilty under the criminal trespass statute.”
Grace referenced videos of the protest, which showed there was room for both bystanders and protesters
“There was not sufficient blockage of ingress or egress when defendant was arrested to create a compelling government interest in removing those present from the rotunda,” he wrote.
Furthermore, Judge Grace cited Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, which states “ … fear or apprehension of a disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression on a college campus.”
It is still in question whether Mayberry’s case will set a precedent for the other students who did not plead “no contest.”