STATE COLLEGE (AP) — A computer engineering major at Pennsylvania State University who helped hang a protest banner outside a National Governors Association reception on campus faced defiant trespass charges that were later dropped.
But Justin Leto was placed on deferred suspension by the university’s Judicial Affairs Office. He is among several students voicing concern that the state’s largest university doles out swift punishment to some — whether or not they are convicted of anything in court — while the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback Rashard Casey faces assault charges in New Jersey and no discipline on campus.
“We think they’re going to bend over backward to find Rashard Casey innocent. But they’ll do whatever it takes to find other people guilty,” Leto said.
Other critics of the university’s student justice system say it rushes cases through a process that does not ensure Fifth Amendment rights or that they be represented by attorneys.
“The law’s clear. The university can act to discipline students, and their Fifth Amendment rights don’t have to be applied when the students are going through that disciplinary process,” said Andrew Shubin, a State College lawyer representing three students cleared of charges in connection with hanging the banner more than two months ago.
“But that doesn’t mean it’s wise or fair,” Shubin said.
Casey was charged May 14 with assault in an attack on an off-duty police officer outside a bar in Hoboken, N.J. Police say Casey and another man kicked the victim until he was unconscious. Casey denies the charges. University spokesman William Mahon said Penn State’s disciplinary system is fair, and has received “overwhelming” approval from students who have faced it.
“The system’s a good system, in place for many years,” Mahon said.
Complaints about how the university has handled Casey’s case emerged when students arrested early July 16 for what authorities called “riotous behavior” found themselves quickly facing suspensions before their cases went to court.
That night 28 people — including 18 Penn State students — were arrested after a mini-riot near the campus at the conclusion of the annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
Two years ago some 1,500 students gathered as rioters during the same festival, and set bonfires, tore down light posts, battered storefronts and injured more than a dozen police officers.
July’s melee was smaller, with the most serious charge aggravated assault for throwing a rock at a police officer. Most were accused of failure to disperse and resisting arrest.
Of 11 students disciplined by Penn State for their roles in the mini-riot, five were suspended for a year or given probation. The other six are appealing their punishments, including suspensions.
One of those, Martin Austermuhle, is a senior majoring in international politics who is attending Penn State on a student visa. He said he was charged with failure to disperse, though he wasn’t a rioter. His case has yet to go to court.
Penn State suspended him for a year. He could lose his visa and be sent home to Costa Rica.
“I’m willing to take a penalty, but this indirect deportation is too much,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Mahon said the university met with police and viewed videotapes. “I’m not surprised that some people facing discipline would have complaints,” he said.
Others support the university’s swift action, particularly in light of the riot two years ago.
“The riot is troubling because it happened two times now, and we don’t want it becoming part of the culture,” said Peter Marshall, manager of State College Borough.