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NGA protesters may be punished by Penn State

Criminal charges were dropped after the convention. Activists called the situation unfair, a double standard.

By Daryl Lang

Collegian Staff Writer

Penn State is considering whether to punish three students who refused police orders to leave a university building during a July protest, the students said yesterday.

The students said the situation is unfair because their case has already been heard in court and the criminal charges against them were all dismissed.

“It’s just a pathetic attempt to try to pin something on us,” said Justin Leto (senior-computer engineering), who organized the protest.

The protest is the third recent incident in which Penn State’s Office of Judicial Affairs has taken on a controversial legal matter, including a case when the office declined to punish a football player charged with assault.

Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said yesterday that the university’s judicial process concerns whether students broke a university rule, something separate from a criminal charge.

The three student demonstrators — Leto, Robyn Stephens (senior-sociology) and Michelle Yates (junior-women’s studies) — each were called to meet with the director of judicial affairs. The meetings took place over the last two weeks.

Each declined to admit any wrongdoing and will have their case decided at judicial hearings that have yet to be scheduled.

Working as a group called “Redirection 2000”, the students waved signs and banners on July 10 to protest the failure of the National Governors’ Association Annual Meeting to respond to the menu of causes they support.

Several students climbed through a second-floor window in order to hang a sign on a balcony facing a governors event at the HUB-Robeson Center. Penn State Police Services ordered the students to leave and arrested five of them.

“Being on the ledge wasn’t something the university approved of, and it wasn’t safe,” said Mahon, who said he was present at the demonstration.

After their arrest, police charged all five students with “defiant trespass.”

At a July 20 preliminary hearing, District Justice Daniel Hoffman dismissed all the charges against the demonstrators.

But recently, three of the students were called before Joseph Puzycki, Penn State’s director of judicial affairs, for disciplinary action.

Penn State accused Leto, Stephens and Yates of “failure to comply with a directive” and “unauthorized use of university buildings/facilities,” the students said in a statement.

Penn State never figured out who the other two arrested demonstrators were, Leto said.

Puzycki allowed State College attorney Andy Shubin, who is representing the students free of charge, to sit in on one of the meetings, Shubin said.

Shubin wonders why the university keeps pursuing the case even after court testimony July 20 from Penn State University Relations Executive Director Steve MacCarthy. The students said MacCarthy had given them permission to be in the building.

“What’s upsetting here is that the university’s official and the top guy on the scene has already testified under oath,” Shubin said. “That testimony essentially exonerates them from any wrongdoing. . . . Of course, the university is a large institution and maybe the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand.”

Neither MacCarthy nor Puzycki were in their offices yesterday, and Penn State won’t discuss specific judicial cases in the interest of protecting students’ privacy, Mahon said.

But Mahon said the judicial affairs process is separate from the criminal courts.

“We don’t try people in our judicial system for breaking those laws. We take people through our judicial system for violating a university policy,” Mahon said.

The three students involved said Puzycki offered them disciplinary probation at their meeting with him if they would admit wrongdoing, but they refused. Probation is assigned for a specific period of time and can include a number of different conditions, including barring students from certain scholarships, according to the Judicial Affairs Web site.

Leto said the university should be the ones punished for violating students’ free speech rights.

“This is what they’ve been doing the entire time, making us look like the criminals, when it’s really they who are the criminals,” Leto said.

Leto also said it was unfair that the university’s judicial process compels students to talk about their actions, as if they are presumed guilty until they defend themselves.

Several students involved in a July 16 State College riot criticized the Office of Judicial Affairs earlier this month.

They said the office had sanctioned them for their participation in the riot even though they had not yet been tried in court.

Michael Byrne (senior-computer engineering) complained of a double standard.

Penn State quarterback Rashard Casey was charged in connection with an assault in New Jersey but also has not yet been tried. Penn State has taken no action against him, MacCarthy said earlier this month, because the police in Hoboken, N.J., have refused to provide information to the university.

Yates said it was unfair for Penn State to punish the student demonstrators but not Casey, especially since the demonstrators have had their criminal charges dropped.

Mahon said Judicial Affairs has become an increasingly busy office on campus over the last several years, but said it wasn’t attributed to any specific case.

“It’s a system that’s worked very well,” Mahon said. “Normally it (a case) ends very early in the stage.”