ELYRIA — A former Oberlin College employee testified that during the November 2016 protests by students against Gibson’s Bakery, a college staff member who reported to Meredith Raimondo was carrying a stack of fliers encouraging people to boycott the bakery and tried to hand him one.
Rick McDaniel, who served as the director of safety and security at Oberlin College from 1980 to 1995, said Julio Reyes, whom McDaniel identified as the associate director of the multicultural resources center under the dean of students at the time of the protests, tried to hand him a copy of the flier.
McDaniel said he handed the flier back to Reyes and told him, “I’ve already seen it.”
Reyes then followed McDaniel back to his car and tried to block him from taking photos with his phone of the protesters. McDaniel said Reyes repeatedly put the stack of flyers in front of the phone’s camera lens to interfere and stated repeatedly: “I’m with the college,” in what he described as “an attempt to intimidate” him.
McDaniel took the stand Monday afternoon in the second day of testimony in the civil trial between Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College. Gibson’s sued the college and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for libel, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, intentional infliction of emotional distress and trespass in 2017. The bakery also is suing the college for negligent hiring, retention and supervision.
After hearing about the protests against Gibson’s Bakery through Facebook, McDaniel said he and his wife went downtown to see the protests for themselves. He said a student gave him a copy of the flier that was being passed around.
“After I finished reading it and expressing some disgust about it, I threw it in the trash can,” McDaniel said.
Asked to explain, McDaniel said: “Because not a single thing I read in there was true, to my knowledge. It was not an accurate depiction of the Gibsons’ business as I know it, and I thought it was totally out of line, totally undeserved. They didn’t deserve that.”
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.
Allyn Gibson is white and the students are black and the incident became racially charged. 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.
Raimondo also took the stand Monday as an adverse witness, meaning her testimony was compelled by subpoena and not voluntary.
She responded to earlier testimony about student protesters blocking media and other photographers from taking pictures. She said college faculty intervened to explain to students that they could not prevent such pictures from being taken.
Lee Plakas, the lead attorney for Gibson’s, then read a text message exchange between Raimondo and a person who worked under her at the college the first day of the protests.
“I’m getting something to block the photographer as I make copies. Is that OK?” the woman asked Raimondo in a text message.
“You, in your advisory role, say, ‘So long as we avoid physical confrontation. He’s being a jerk,’” Plakas read back to Raimondo.
Raimondo then said, “That’s not what this exchange is in reference to.”
Plakas then read the exchange again.
“Aren’t you approving her blocking of a photographer, as long as she doesn’t physically hit him?” Plakas said.
“No, sir,” Raimondo said. “That’s not what’s happening in this interchange. I can certainly explain it, if you would like.”
Plakas stopped her there and switched topics.
Raimondo also was asked about emails and discussions that appeared to be an attempt to get Gibson’s Bakery to drop the charges against the three students involved in the altercation in exchange for the college resuming its business relationship with the bakery.
“You would agree with me that if somebody says, ‘Let’s go and use financial money or payments for leverage to get someone to drop criminal charges, to get someone out of the criminal justice system; you’d agree with me that’s obstruction of justice or a crime, isn’t it?” Plakas asked. “Isn’t that bribery? Isn’t that what the mafia used to do?”
“I don’t know what the law is, so I’m not sure what you’re asking,” Raimondo answered.
Plakas also asked her whether she would agree or disagree with a series of statements.
The first was “Agree that the flier made false statements about Allyn W. Gibson.” Allyn W. Gibson is the elderly father of David Gibson; David Gibson’s son, also Allyn, was the worker involved in the altercation.
Plakas also asked if she would agree or disagree with the same statement about David Gibson and about the bakery.
To each statement, Raimondo responded, “I don’t know.”
Plakas asked if she would agree or disagree “that the student senate resolution made false statements about Gibson’s Bakery.” Again, Raminodo responded: “I don’t know.”
Raimondo also was asked to agree or disagree “that the harms, losses or damages are foreseeable when a person is accused of the crime assault.” He also asked her the same thing about a person and a business accused of racial profiling.
To each of those Raimondo answered: “Depends (on) the circumstances.”
Raimondo’s testimony will continue at 9 a.m. today.
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