ELYRIA — A jury considering whether Oberlin College damaged Gibson’s Bakery by its actions or inactions following student protests in November 2016 did not hear testimony Friday as the judge in the case instead presided over administrative matters.
Instead of testimony, attorneys for Oberlin College and Gibson’s argued evidence during a brief morning session in Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi’s courtroom, with Gibson’s scoring a victory to allow Oberlin Police Department records entered into evidence.
The parties also stipulated to the authenticity of videos taken by The Chronicle-Telegram staff of the Nov. 10-11, 2016, student and community protests outside Gibson’s on West College Street. A former Oberlin police sergeant testified last week that police were prepared to call out the county riot team when an estimated 300 people protested the shop.
Oberlin Police Department records coordinator Sara Gentile said during the hearing that in response to a media request following the original incident, she created a document showing every shoplifting or theft arrest at Gibson’s between January 2011 and November 2016.
The document included demographic information detailing the racial breakdown of those arrested for theft from the store: In the more than five years prior to the November 2016 incident, according to the Oberlin police spreadsheet, 40 adults were arrested for shoplifting. Of those, only six were African-American.
Oberlin police concluded, based on their investigation, that there was “a complete lack of evidence of racism” involved in arrests for theft from Gibson’s.
Oberlin College attorneys objected Friday to attorneys for Gibson’s introducing the document as evidence, questioning both its relevance and whether it was a document created in the normal course of police business.
Gentile testified she had created similar documents breaking down arrests at Walmart.
“It’s all public record,” she said on the stand.
Miraldi overruled Oberlin College’s objection to the document and said he would allow the plaintiffs to introduce it.
Friday was the trial’s seventh day. Gibson’s has alleged the allegations of racism in the wake of the shoplifting incident have damaged its business. Several African-
American witnesses have taken the stand in the past week to say that they never felt unwelcome or discriminated against by the Gibsons while working or shopping at the store over the past 50 years.
The current case began after an Oberlin College student attempted to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplifted two bottles of wine in November 2016 and was confronted by Allyn D. Gibson, the son of bakery owner David Gibson.
Allyn D. Gibson got into an altercation with the suspect and two other students outside the bakery, was knocked to the ground and struck repeatedly. All three students involved, all of whom were black, later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in Lorain County Common Pleas Court.
The college briefly ended its 100-year business relationship with Gibson’s after the incident and protests, and resumed purchasing daily orders until Gibson’s sued Oberlin College in 2017.
Gibson’s filed suit against both 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. The bakery also is suing the college for negligent hiring, retention and supervision of employees.
Testimony will continue at 1 p.m. Monday, Miraldi said prior to adjourning for the day.
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