Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
STATE COLLEGE — A judge has dropped a criminal-mischief citation against a Penn State student activist, citing a lack of evidence from the university police department.
At an hourlong hearing Monday, District Judge Jonathan Grine dismissed the charge against Olivia Guevara, 23, a leader of United Students Against Sweatshops.
Guevara said the decision “pretty much empowered” the group to continue its campaign at Penn State.
“We’re not going to stop,” she said outside the courtroom. “We’re going to keep on going.”
University police had cited Guevara in connection with messages chalked on Old Main and the chemistry, life sciences, Willard and Thomas buildings.
The messages, urging Penn State to adopt a more aggressive stance against sweatshop labor, appeared Sept. 27.
A citation against Guevara, signed by campus Officer Roxanne Snider, accused the graduate student of writing the messages and causing $408.96 in damage to the buildings.
Campus security cameras recorded a number of people at Old Main at the time of the incident. Snider showed a recording to Grine, Guevara and defense attorney Andrew Shubin on Monday.
Grine said he saw no evidence that would implicate Guevara in the chalking that happened away from Old Main.
And even at Old Main, Grine indicated, the evidence showed only that Guevara apparently wrote on an exterior pillar.
Shubin argued that behavior alone could not amount to criminal mischief. The definition of “criminal mischief” includes intentional damage.
“The purpose of using sidewalk chalk is not to cause damage to person or property,” Shubin told Grine. “My 7-year-old could come in and testify to that fact.”
Shubin also said that Penn State appeared to have used selective prosecution against Guevara — a discriminatory practice. He cited more than a half-dozen other photos of public chalk messages that were apparent on campus in mid-November to mid-December.
None of those resulted in prosecution by university police. According to a posted policy, the university does not allow chalking of sidewalks and buildings, a witness testified.
Grine said that in four years on the bench, he had not seen Penn State try to prosecute anyone but Guevara for chalking.
“Do you have any response to that?” Grine asked Snider.
Snider let go a hesitant chuckle but did not answer. She soon argued that the chalking “endangered” a door at Old Main.
“There’s no evidence about the door,” Shubin shot back.
Later, with reporters, he said: “Isn’t it ironic that the one message that’s critical of Penn State is the one that winds up the target of prosecution?”
Snider, in the courtroom, said that the university may grant exceptions to the anti-chalk rule for groups that seek permission.
Under critical questioning from Grine, Snider conceded she was unsure of the policy specifics.
Guevara thinks Penn State targeted her as part of an intimidation plan against the anti-sweatshop movement, she has said.
Asked about those allegations Monday, university spokesman Bill Mahon said: “This is a vandalism case. We target vandals.”
Judicial Affairs, the university’s internal student judiciary, will list an offense on Guevara’s Penn State record for seven years, she said. She said her appeal of the Judicial Affairs decision failed.
Mahon said the Judicial Affairs matter involves alleged violations of the Student Code of Conduct — not criminal court matters.
“It’s not unheard of for a student to be involved in a case in which they’re found innocent at Judicial Affairs and guilty in a court, or vice-versa,” Mahon said.
He said Penn State thinks Guevara was involved in vandalism that included damage to the Old Main doors. In an e-mail exchange last month, Mahon wrote that “no chalking violation was investigated here or brought before Judicial Affairs.
“This is a case about the $500 damage to the door,” he wrote then.
Court and Judicial Affairs documents obtained by the Centre Daily Times do not mention specific damage to those doors. Snider said Monday that the chalking in September had included messages on the doors.
The security recording reviewed by Grine did not demonstrate precisely who wrote those particular messages, the judge noted.
Shubin said he did not charge for his services.