A police officer informs the protestors that they will be arrested if they choose to stay at the protest in Athens, Ohio on February 2, 2017. (Robert Green/WOUB)

Interim President ‘Unwilling’ to Drop Baker Center Protest Charges

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In an email to the university community, OU’s interim president said he would not attempt to drop charges or remove university sanctions on 70 students arrested during a protest at Baker University Center.

Interim President David Descutner wrote on Wednesday of the importance of students and participants accepting “the responsibility as citizens to stand up for those in our interlocking communities who themselves would be at risk for doing so.”

“I think it is imperative to recognize that those involved in the protest, including our students, were standing up for vulnerable populations on and off campus and against an executive order that they believed to be unjust,” Descutner wrote.

The students were arrested in early February after they “occupied” Baker University Center. The were protesting U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order which ceased the immigration and travel visas for those from seven Muslim-majority countries. The order is now locked in court battles and is on hold.

Ohio University Police Department officers arrested protesters after officers said the individuals were blocking “ingress and egress” from the building, according to previous WOUB reporting.

“Protesters were informed repeatedly that they were impacting operations, egress and creating a safety issue,” University spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood said that night.

Descutner stated in his email he was “asked to consider inserting myself into the legal process,” but is unwilling to “because I believe the students received due warning from the police and chose to be arrested.”

At about 7:30 p.m. the night of the protest, OUPD Chief Andrew Powers “delivered his first warning” that anyone refusing to leave Baker Center would be arrested within the hour. At about 8 p.m., officers began arresting and charging individuals.

Descutner said he had reviewed video taken by police of the protest, spoke with OUPD Chief Andrew Powers and a student representative from the Center for Student Legal Services.

The interim president expressed his support for Powers and the actions of the OUPD.

“I have great confidence in (Powers) as a professional and someone who cares about the welfare of our students, and I have the same level of confidence in his officers,” Descutner wrote.

In concluding his email, Descutner invited those that were arrested to visit with him “so that we could talk about their experience and their beliefs.”

The full text of the email can be read here.

All of the protesters arrested entered not guilty pleas during their initial appearances in Athens County Municipal Court in the days after the arrests.