A respected constitutional scholar and commentator is publicly rebuking a select college, Oberlin, for its years-long war against the innocent owners of a nearby grocery store, for which officials at the institution now are being required to pay some $36 million in damages.
The fight was over a false claim of racism that the school orchestrated against the grocery owners who caught three black students shoplifting.
There was nothing racist about the grocery’s actions, as the students pleaded guilty.
But the school created the false narrative of racism against the store, and stuck with it even after a jury award the family store owners millions in damages.
Constitutional expert Jonathan Turley condemned the officials’ actions:
“The handling of this matter by Oberlin is nothing short of reprehensible in not only the treatment of this grocery (which was founded in the 1800s) but in the wasting of the assets and reputation of the college. Yet, not a single official appears to have been disciplined for this costly campaign. With tuition at $30,000 a year, the ultimate cost of this litigation would cover free tuition for a year for half of the college. (The total enrollment is only 2,600 students).”
He continued, “Yet, over $40 million somehow became little more than the price of vanity of a college to refuse to admit its original error and to apologize for its conduct. It was a complete failure of leadership by the president, the board, and the college. No one seemed willing to take the responsibility to say ‘enough’ and stop the burning of added costs year after year. So the college continued to gush money as it racked up losses in court.”
He said Oberlin officials “have frittered away the assets and reputation of a school with a wonderful history and stellar academic reputation … all to pursue a small grocery like Captain Ahab and his whale. Indeed, the final filing should just quote Melville to capture the blind rage needed to sustain this ill-conceived effort: ‘From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.'”
He reported the Ohio Supreme Court recently rejected the college’s latest appeal, and while the school could go to federal court yet, that would offer “little hope for a change” in the result.
Turley recounted the history of the war against the family business.
“The bakery has been the target of an unrelenting attack by the school after it had the temerity to fight a false charge of racism in a shoplifting case involving Oberlin students who later pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Oberlin President Carmen Twillie Ambar and the board burned through millions in litigation costs above the damages rather than admit that the college was wrong in the targeting of this grocery. That money could have been used for scholarships and other worthy purposes. Instead, Amber and the Board will simply ask alumni to foot the bill for a legal effort that seems to become little more than a revenge fetish.”
The case dates back years, over which Oberlin repeatedly targeted the store, Gibson’s Bakery.
“This controversy began with a shoplifting case. In 2016, an African American student named Jonathan Aladin was caught trying to steal a bottle of wine from Gibson’s Bakery, which was established in 1885 and has been closely tied to the college for over a century. When the grandson of the owner tried to stop Aladin, a fight ensued and police were called. Aladin and two other students, Cecilia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence, were arrested.”
The students, professors, administrators and others then launched a campaign accusing the business of “racism.”
“Oberlin maintained in court filings that the son and grandson of the owners of Gibson’s Bakery ‘violently and unreasonably attacked’ an unarmed student, but that is not how the police viewed it. Aladin was charged with robbery, which is a second degree felony, and Whettstone and Lawrence were charged with first degree misdemeanor assault. Police rejected claims of a racial motive and noted that, over a period of five years, 40 adults were arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s Bakery, but only six were African American.”
He pointed out prosecutors tried to cut a plea deal “to reduce the charge to attempted theft,” but a judge refused. “He said the plea deal appeared to be the result of a permanent ‘economic sanction’ by the college in which the victim had little choice but to relent. Ultimately, all three students pleaded guilty.”
The merits of the case appeared irrelevant to the school.
“Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo reportedly joined the massive protests and even handed out a flier denouncing the bakery as a racist business. When some people contacted Oberlin to object that the students admitted guilt, special assistant to the president for community and government relations Tita Reed wrote that it did not change a ‘damn thing’ for her. Reed also reportedly participated in the campus protests,” Turley noted.
Oberlin barred purchases from the store and put pressure on a contractor to do the same.
The jury originally determined the bakery owners were due $44 million, but that was reduced to $25 million. But now lawyers’ fees and interest – of thousands of dollars per day – have been added.
Even after a long string of court losses, the college said it was disappointed, but it didn’t apologize.
“Oberlin is disappointed that the Ohio Supreme Court has chosen not to hear our appeal of the Gibson’s Bakery judgment against the college. The issues raised by this case have been challenging, not only for the parties involved, but for the entire Oberlin community. We remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the College, the City of Oberlin and its residents, and the downtown business community. We will continue in that important work while remaining focused on our core educational mission,” its statement said.
WND reported weeks ago when the case was elevated to the state’s high court that Oberlin continued to refuse to pay damages imposed by the courts.