OBERLIN — Oberlin City Prosecutor Frank Carlson dismissed a felony robbery charge against a teen who allegedly shoplifted alcohol from Gibson’s Bakery and plans to forward the case to Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will to present to a county grand jury.
Carlson threw out the felony charge Wednesday after Oberlin Municipal Court Judge Thomas Januzzi refused a plea deal in which Jonathan Aladin would plead guilty to a reduced charge of attempted theft, a misdemeanor. The plea deal also said that Aladin would be placed on diversion, in which he would plead guilty, but the case would ultimately be dismissed if he successfully completed one year of probation.
In court documents detailing the proposed plea, Carlson wrote that he reviewed the police report, body camera video and had interviewed witnesses with conflicting perceptions of what happened.
According to the police report, Aladin, 19, allegedly tried buy a bottle of wine at Gibson’s Bakery while also concealing two bottles of wine under his shirt. After Allyn Gibson, whose family owns the store, refused to sell him the wine, he confronted Aladin about the bottles of wine he suspected the Oberlin College student of trying to steal.
Aladin, who is black, then allegedly slapped Gibson’s phone out of his hand, causing it strike his face and then fled, breaking two bottles of wine on his way out, police reported.
Gibson, who is white, pursued him out the door and across the street, where there was a physical confrontation. When police arrived, they saw Gibson on the ground with Aladin and two other students — Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, both of whom are black — punching him, the report said.
In his request for the plea deal, Carlson wrote Aladin has no prior adult record and “wishes to plead guilty to attempted theft and thereby to publicly acknowledge his culpability in this matter.”
Carlson also said in his motion that the incident at Gibson’s was followed by protests from Oberlin College students who launched accusations of racism against the bakery. Those cries of racial profiling pushed Oberlin College to stop doing business with the bakery.
“The situation has created a certain amount of ill-will among segments of our community,” Carlson said.
Carlson said he spent many hours on the phone with Aladin’s lawyer, Robert Beck, formulating the deal.
Januzzi took a short recess before turning down the plea deal listing several reasons, with one of them being that the plea could be viewed as Gibson’s having “little choice but to assent in this proposal under penalty of permanent economic sanction.
“While it is commendable that the Gibsons profess that they believe this to be in the best interest of the community, the court is concerned about the potential precedent setting of permitting a business owner under these circumstances to assent to such an agreement where such a serious crime is alleged,” Januzzi said.
Januzzi wrote that the best way for the community to move on from the incident “is a full and complete open disclosure [perhaps a public trial] where all interested members of the community can witness the events that transpired and draw their own conclusions as to whether the ill-will is justified.”
In response, Beck painted a picture of Aladin as an underage teen attempting to buy alcohol and getting caught up in his emotions around the political climate as the incident happened the day after the presidential election.
“An attempt at an underage sale led a man with no record, scholarships and good history into a robbery,” Beck said. “It was a tense time, your honor. This election, whatever side people stood on, is very emotional. I think the combination of political pressures brought forward the excitability of youth.”
Beck said as part of the plea deal, the Gibsons requested a one-hour meeting with Aladin “where they could express their feelings as a small-business owner.”
Beck said the case was causing Aladin “social stigma at the school” and anxiety and that the teen wants to move on and wants the community to move on.
“When there is a ‘versus’ in front of your name, you don’t sleep, you don’t eat … and that’s what’s happening to this young man,” Beck said. “This young man is trying to better himself. He wants to step up. He wants to take responsibility. He wants to close to this case, and if closing this case heals the community, hallelujah.”
Carlson called Januzzi’s decision “an unwarranted intrusion” on his discretion as prosecutor.
A joint pretrial for Lawrence and Whettstone, the two other Oberlin College students charged with misdemeanor assault for their alleged roles in the incident, is scheduled for Feb. 1.
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