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Cops and Courts

Documents reveal attempts to 'smear the brand' of Gibson's

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    Gibson's bakery in Oberlin

    BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE FILE

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ELYRIA — An associate professor at Oberlin College wrote that the protests conducted by students outside of Gibson’s Bakery in 2016 to “smear the brand” of the business had been achieved.

A message sent by associate professor of music theory Jan Miyake said, “So heres one rhing (sic) on my mind about gibsons. They own so much prime property in oberlin that boycotting doesnt hurt them that much. The smear on their brand does, and that’s been taken care of.”

The transcript of Miyake’s message was included in a recently unsealed court filing made by the attorneys for Gibson’s as part of the lawsuit filed against the college and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for libel, slander, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and trespass.

The document also included some testimony given by Miyake during a deposition for the case. Miyake was asked what she meant by “the smear on their brand does.”

“So the — I — it’s –—that hurts to have your brand smeared,” Miyake said. “So boycotting them doesn’t really hurt them, but having your brand hurt.”

When asked how Gibson’s brand was smeared, Miyake said, “They protested outside the store for three days chanting, ‘Racists.’”

Miyake was then asked what she’d meant that the smear of the brand had been taken care of.

“It — it means that there’s no reason to keep doing that,” she said. “It’s done.”

The rift between the bakery and the college began in 2016 when a student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from Allyn Gibson, who is the son of the bakery’s owner, David Gibson. Allyn Gibson followed the student out of the store and the two got into a physical altercation.

Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn Gibson while he was on the ground.

The incident became racially charged because Allyn Gibson is white and the students are black. All three students pleaded guilty in August to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.

The bakery contends it suffered a loss of business as a result of the protests by Oberlin College students and community members that ensued after the incident.

According to the filing, when some staff from the college expressed concern that the protests were misdirected, faculty “chose to ignore it and proceed with aiding and abetting and participating in the defamatory protests of Gibson’s Bakery.”

Emily Crawford, an employee of the college in the Communications Department, sent an email to her supervisor, who then forwarded it to other senior members of the college’s administration, court documents said.

The email read:

“I have talked to 15 townie friends who are poc and they are disgusted and embarrassed by the protest. In their view, the kid was breaking the law, period (even if he wasn’t shoplifting, he was underage). To them this is not a race issue at all and they do not believe the Gibsons are racist. They believe the students have picked the wrong target.

“The OPD, on the other hand, is problematic. I don’t think anyone in town would take issue with the students protesting them.

“I find this misdirected rage very disturbing, and it’s only going to widen the gap (between) town and gown.”

In response, according to the court filing, Special Assistant to the President for Community and Government Relations Tita Reed wrote: “Doesn’t change a damn thing for me.”

In other internal communications included in the filing, Raimondo allegedly “threatened to weaponize the student body” against a professor after he spoke out against the defamation and boycott of Gibsons, court documents said.

According to court documents, Vice President for Communications Ben Jones sent a text message saying, “(Expletive) ROGER COPELAND.”

“(Expletive) him,” Raimondo responded in a message. “I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.”

The court document also said that Oberlin College “demanded that (Gibson’s) not arrest or prosecute first time shoplifters at Gibson’s Bakery and even demanded that Oberlin College student shoplifters be reported to the college as opposed to the Oberlin Police Department.”

The document said the college demanded the bakery dismiss all criminal charges against the three students involved in the initial incident “as quid pro quo for resuming business with Gibson’s Bakery.”

Oberlin College had been purchasing goods from Gibson’s Bakery for decades prior to the protests. Court documents said Raimondo ordered the termination of business with the bakery shortly after the protests, which was ratified by the College President Marvin Krislov.

The filing also alleged that protesters followed Raimondo’s instructions to use the copy machine in the college’s Conservatory to make copies of a flyer that stated Gibson’s Bakery “is a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination.”

Raimondo also “communicated to the protesters using a megaphone and instructed the protesters as to where they could seek food and refreshment that would allow them to continue the defamatory protests,” court documents said.

Documents said Raimondo, using college resources, directed college employees to provide refreshments for the protesters. Raimondo also “approved the use of college funds to purchase gloves for the protesters,” the filing said.

A trial date of May 2 has now been set for the lawsuit.

Oberlin College released a statement Thursday evening regarding the matter: “The court has notified Oberlin College that the Gibson’s Bakery and the Gibsons’ claims against Oberlin College and Dean Raimondo will move forward in court on May 1. We are disappointed. Every effort to resolve this matter has been to no avail. We believe the evidence is clear. Neither Oberlin College nor Dr. Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners.

“Colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of students. Employers are not legally responsible for employees who express personal views on personal time. The law is clear on these issues.

“The College values its long relationship with the town of Oberlin and its businesses. We will continue our commitment to the economic uplift of the local businesses that make this community, county, and region a destination of choice.

“The claims in this case conflict with the obligations of higher education to protect freedom of speech on college campuses. The College respects the rights of all individuals to express their personal opinions and to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.”

The trial date had been set for May 1, but the court pushed it back one day earlier this week.

Contact Scott Mahoney at (440) 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.

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