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Cops and Courts

Oberlin dean suggests other witnesses provided mistaken accounts of Gibson's protests

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ELYRIA — Meredith Raimondo alleged that multiple witnesses who testified during the past couple weeks lied, misremembered or were mistaken with their testimony during the civil trial between Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College.

Raimondo, the vice president and dean of students at Oberlin College who is a defendant in the suit as well, took the stand Tuesday as the opening witness for Oberlin College’s case. The attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery rested their case last week.

Gibson’s sued the college and Raimondo 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.

Richard Panza, an attorney for the defendants, tried to use Raimondo’s testimony Tuesday to rebut much of what was said in previous weeks of testimony, including Raimondo’s involvement in the protests, whether she passed out copies of a flyer calling for a boycott of Gibson’s Bakery and whether she had told David Gibson to call her rather than police when Oberlin College students were caught shoplifting.

Raimondo said that she did give a reporter, Jason Hawk, from a weekly newspaper, a copy of the flyer, but she disputed the reporter’s testimony that she had a student run and get a copy of the flyer for him. Instead, Raimondo said she pulled a copy out of her pocket she had received from a student just minutes prior. She also said she hadn’t read the entire flyer before giving it to Hawk.

Multiple witnesses also testified that they saw Raimondo on the bullhorn repeatedly during the protests, and she appeared to be “orchestrating” the protests.

During her testimony Tuesday, though, Raimondo said she was on the bullhorn for only a minute at the request of student protesters to identify herself to the protesters to let them know she was there to act as a liaison between the students and community.

When asked if she was calling the other witnesses liars by refuting their testimony, Raimondo said that what they said just wasn’t accurate.

“I’m saying I only used the bullhorn once,” she said. “I know that to be absolutely true. I can’t explain why people think they saw what they saw. I just know what I did, and I had the bullhorn once.”

When asked about another witness’ testimony, she said: “He must have been mistaken in some way, or he saw it that one time.”

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 D. Gibson, who is the son of the bakery’s owner, David Gibson. Allyn D. 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 D. Gibson while he was on the ground.

Allyn D. Gibson is white and the students are black, and the incident escalated. All three students pleaded guilty in August 2017 to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.

In the two days following the shoplifting incident, Oberlin College students protested in front of the bakery and passed out flyers urging people to boycott the bakery because of the bakery’s history of racial profiling. Oberlin College stopped ordering from the bakery after the protests before resuming in January 2017.

The college once again ceased ordering from Gibson’s after the lawsuit was filed in November 2017.

Raimondo also was asked about testimony by David Gibson in which he said that during a meeting, she told him she had sent people out door-to-door in the community to ask whether they believed the Gibson family and the business were racist. She denied the allegation and said she never sent people door-to-door.

“All I can think is he misremembered or misunderstood,” Raimondo said. “That simply didn’t happen, so I could not have talked about it. I would never send students out in that fashion. That could be so harmful or disruptive.”

She also explained why she and Chief of Staff Ferdinand Protzman declined to issue a statement from the college stating they didn’t believe the Gibsons were racist, as David Gibson testified that he requested during the meeting.

“He did request that the college issue a statement stating that the Gibsons, family and bakery, were not racist,” Raimondo said. “… Mr. Protzman and I said that because the college had never said that the Gibsons were racist, we weren’t comfortable making a statement, one way or another, but that we did want to move forward in our relationship with them, we very much valued them as a community partner and that we could release a mutual statement talking about how important that relationship was to both the college and the bakery.”

During cross-examination, quite a bit of time was spent discussing Raimondo’s use of the word support in emails she sent to administrators, faculty and staff at the college.

Raimondo said that when she used the word regarding students, it usually meant to advise and challenge them, rather than to give assistance to. In particular, the plaintiffs highlighted an email in which Raimondo talked to others at the college about supporting the student protestors while they protested outside the bakery.

Lee Plakas, the lead attorney for Gibson’s Bakery, read several emails written by Raimondo that used the word support and asked the defendant which definition she would use in each instance.

“Mr. Plakas, you can try to twist my words in any way that you want,” Raimondo said. “I explained to the jury what I meant by support. That is how I use it consistently. I understand that they will decide what they believe; that’s their role in this case, but no matter how you try to twist it, it’s not what I said. It’s not what I mean. It’s not what the context shows. It’s not what any of the other professionals I was working with understood at any point.”

Testimony in the trial will resume this morning.

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

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