On June 14, Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio released a statement regarding the jury’s decision to award a family owned bakery a $44 million settlement. In their statement, Oberlin College said that while they were disappointed in the decision by the jury, they “respect the integrity of the jury,” and said they “will learn from this lawsuit.”
Fox 8 Cleveland explains why the jury awarded Gibson Bros. Baker $44 million in their case against Oberlin College:
A Lorain County jury deliberated only about two hours on Thursday before telling Oberlin College it owes a local family more than $33 million in punitive damages stemming from student demonstrations against the family’s bakery-market in November of 2016. That’s in addition to the $11 million already settled upon.
A member of the Gibson family stopped an African American student who was shoplifting in their store. The shoplifter later admitted to the crime.
In demonstrations afterward, other students labeled the Gibsons as racist and portrayed their action as racially motivated.
The demonstrators demanded the school end a long-standing contract with the bakery to provide baked goods for a cafeteria there, and the college acquiesced, even though the evidence showed that administrators knew the family’s actions were not racially-motivated and after receiving messages from alumni and supporters of the Gibsons insisting the college intervene with the smear tactics of the students.
Legal Insurrection attended the court hearings. Here is part of their report on the stunning case that will most certainly send a very strong signal to college students who seek to unfairly smear innocent people and businesses to help to push their social or political agendas.
College Employee: Student Behavior Worse Than Nursery School*
Ferdinand Protzman, the chief of staff for the school administration and a 1975 graduate of Oberlin College, was on the stand Friday morning to testify why he didn’t think the school’s decisions to cut business ties with the little local bakery was a good idea after students launched a protest claiming Gibson’s was racist. The racist claim came about because students were upset that Gibson’s caught three African-American students shoplifting in November of 2016.
Gibson’s attorney Lee Plakas asked Protzman what the reason for cutting ties with the business they had worked with for more than a century was. He pointed out emails from various administrators that the student might have thrown a “tantrum” on campus, specifically in the cafeteria while eating dinner, and that might be a good reason to get their cookies and bagels elsewhere.
“The concern was that the students were angry?” Plakas asked. “The fear was that angry students would throw food [made by Gibson’s] on the floor [of the cafeteria] and stomp on it?”
“Yes, that was one of the concerns,” Protzman answered.
“Doesn’t that sound more like a nursery school than a college?” Plakas continued.
“Nursery school students do throw food on the floor, yes,” Protzman said, adding “We are not the students’ parents,” as the reason the school could not tell the students to quit threatening to throw food on the floor and eat their dinner like nice people do.
For those who want more details of the “Student Food Stomp Threat,” the food to be flattened into the cafeteria tile was going to be donuts and bagels made by Gibson’s, but no one was sure of the students were going to put cream cheese on the bagels before they jumped on them.
Oberlin Police Officer Victor Ortiz: “I didn’t see anyone trying to calm the students down at all.”
If you think this part is a funny teaching moment, listen to what former City of Oberlin police officer Victor Ortiz about the protesters outside of Gibson’s two days after the 2016 presidential election. He was an on-duty that day and responded to the threat of the 200 or so people protesting. The police quickly assessed the situation, and Ortiz said he found the situation so dangerous that he was considering calling the Lorain County riot team to quell the situation.
“It was a mob mentality out there,” said Ortiz. “People were getting flyers shoved in their faces saying Gibson’s were racist, curse words were chanted, and they chanted how this business was racist too.”
This video, which was not played in court today, gives a sense of what the protest looked like as described by Ortiz:
Ortiz also questioned the supposition from Oberlin College that the school’s employees on the scene at the protest – including Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, a defendant in this case – were only there to calm the situation down.
“I didn’t see anyone trying to calm the students down at all,” Ortiz said. “Didn’t see any of them instructing the students not to use curse words and didn’t hear any of them tell their students not to shout that Gibson’s is racist. The sidewalks were filled up, and a lot of businesses closed in the early afternoon because they were afraid.”
What happened to set this all up was that an Oberlin College male student and his two female student friends were involved in being caught shoplifting wine at Gibson’s Bakery and Market, and a scuffle afterward outside the store before the three were arrested. This all happened the day after Donald Trump was elected president, and the Oberlin College students seemed angry enough to protest and threaten to stomp on donuts and bagels as a way to express such anger.
Ortiz also settled an issue that has caused some dispute and consternation in Oberlin. Some in the Oberlin College community have expressed that one of the Gibson’s employees (Allyn Gibson) chased after the three shoplifters – one male, and two females – and beat them up unfairly and illegally outside of the store. In short, the school supporters have pushed the interpretation of all this that the shoplifters were the victims of a crime, not Gibson’s
Quite the opposite happened, Ortiz testified, as he was one of the first on the scene and the police report backs him up on this.
“When we got there, we saw two young ladies [Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone] standing over [Allyn Gibson] and throwing haymakers at him,” Ortiz said. “The two women would stand over him and kick him, and then crouch down and throw punches. As we got closer, we could see [Allyn Gibson] on his back, with the male [Jonathan Aladin] on top of him and punching him.”
Another point made quite clearly by the Gibson’s was that they were not considered racist by the community’s African-American community and the city in general. Ortiz and another former Oberlin police officer said they dealt with Gibson’s on a daily basis, not because there was often trouble there, but because the downtown business area is very small and the police and business owners all know each other well.
Retired African-American Police Officer – “Gibson’s treated me just like they treat everyone else.”
Henry Wallace, the city’s police department’s community service officer from 1984 to 2017, and who is also an African-American, told the jury “Gibson’s treated me just like they treat everyone else. They always treated everyone fairly and without any malice, and I say that because I have known them for more than 50 years.”
Oberlin News-Tribune Reporter claimed Oberlin’: Dean of Students handed him a flyer and blocked him from taking photos.