Since it was slammed with tens of millions of dollars in damages for defaming a local bakery as racist, Oberlin College has repeatedly maintained that it did nothing wrong.
Reporting on the situation, including previous reporting from The Daily Wire, focused on the basics of the case: College kids tried to shoplift alcohol from a local bakery, a store employee (and member of the family that owns the bakery) chased the kids and was then attacked by them, the kids pleaded guilty and were punished, and the school claimed the bakery was racist because the shoplifting student is black.
The family owners of Gibson’s Bakery filed a lawsuit against Oberlin for defamation. The school claimed it did not support student protesters who claimed the bakery owners were racist, nor did it help promote the students’ claims.
We can surmise that the school must have participated due to the large settlement awarded to the Gibson family, but we should be aware of just how far the school went to defame this family. The best reporting on the situation came from Legal Insurrection, whose reporter Daniel McGraw actually attended the trial and reported every detail. It is in his reporting that we learn just how badly Oberlin acted in this situation.
Oberlin Officials Fully Endorsed And Supported The Protesters’ Narrative
McGraw reported that Oberlin claimed in court that it tried to calm down the protesting students. This was untrue according to multiple independent sources who testified in court.
A city policeman who was maintaining order at the protests, Officer Victor Ortiz, countered this claim, saying, “I didn’t see anyone trying to calm the students down at all.” He described a protest where “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.”
Ortiz said he didn’t see any administrators “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.”
Ortiz also said that, contrary to what Oberlin students claimed, Allyn Gibson, who was working at the store when Jonathan Aladin and his two friends, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, attempted to shoplift, did not chase the students down and start beating them. Instead, Gibson was the victim of attacks from the students, which is what the police report states.
Local reporter Jason Hawk, who edited the Oberlin News Tribune, said that Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo (who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit) repeatedly blocked him from trying to take photos of the protest and handed him one of the flyers that claimed the bakery had a history of racism (more on that later).
A former Oberlin security director, Rick McDaniel, also testified that he went to the protest and tried to take pictures, but was stopped by someone whom he later identified as Julio Reyes, who was the college’s associate director of the school’s multi-resource center, according to McGraw’s reporting from day two of the trial.
Clarence “Trey” James, an African-American employee of Gibson’s (who said there was no evidence the bakery owners were racist) said that Raimondo was “orchestrating” some of the protests.
“[She was] standing directly in front of the store with a megaphone, orchestrating some of the activities of the students,” James testified. “It appeared she was the voice of authority. She was telling the kids what to do, where to go. Where to get water, use the restrooms, where to make copies.”
Speaking of, day three of the trial revealed that two employees at the school’s music conservatory offices told students they could use their conference room and printers to make copies of the flyers calling Gibson’s Bakery racist. Students were also allowed to use the office’s restrooms and were able to eat pizza there that had been purchased for them by the school.
Protesters Didn’t Simply Exercise Their Free Speech Rights
Protesters didn’t just remain outside making their false accusations. Some students actually entered the bakery and harassed customers. Lorna Gibson, wife of David Gibson (son of owner Allyn Gibson), testified that students entered the bakery “and began taking pictures of people and making nasty comments to our customers shopping.” Lorna said she asked the students to leave and they refused, “and then they started pushing their cameras in my face and yelling things at me.”
She said students blocked customers from moving about the aisles. Lorna also testified the store employees had their tires slashed.
Oberlin Administrators Trashed The Bakery And Anyone Who Defended Them Behind The Scenes
Internal emails revealed at the trial showed Oberlin administrators, Raimondo especially, were hostile toward the bakery, clearly siding with the student’s crying racism.
Ben Jones, Oberlin’s vice president of communications, wrote to other school administrators: “I love how these Gibson supporters accuse us of making rash assumption decisions, but are totally blind to their own assumptions … all these idiots complain about the college.”
He closed this email by saying “F***-em … they’ve made their own bed now.”
Roger Copeland, a theater professor at Oberlin during the protests, wrote a letter to the campus newspaper critical of the school’s treatment of the bakery. In response, Jones texted administrators: “F*** ROGER COPELAND.”
Raimondo responded, “F*** him. I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.”
When an Oberlin resident who also worked in the school’s communications office objected to the student narrative and suggested they were “on the wrong side of this issue,” Jones responded:
Gibson’s is not clean on this … The police report is bull****, so obviously biased toward the Gibson’s … But the bigger issue, is that this is not an isolated incident, but a pattern.
Jones, according to McGraw’s trial reporting, claimed his evidence for the “pattern” came from “high school kids who showed up yesterday to join the protest.” Jones admitted at trial that he didn’t speak to police officers who were investigating the shoplifting at the bakery before he claimed the “police report is bull****.”
Oberlin Claimed It Would Investigate The Shoplifting Incident. It Did No Such Thing.
Jones helped Oberlin president Marvin Krislov and Raimondo draft a letter that said, in part, “We will commit every resource to determining the full and true narrative, including exploring whether this is a pattern and not an isolated incident.”
The school conducted no such investigation. Jones said at trial that in late 2016 he was asked by a local paper about the investigation. Raimondo suggested they “dodge” the question because “our phrasing was unfortunate” when they claimed they were investigating.
There Was No Evidence Of Racism From The Bakery, But There Is Evidence Oberlin May Be Engaging In Racial Profiling
Oberlin tried to keep police records out of the trial that showed no pattern of racial profiling on behalf of Gibson’s Bakery. Those records showed that between 2011 and 2016, 40 were arrested for shoplifting at the bakery (82.5% were Oberlin students). Of those 40, just six were African-American (15%). The majority (32, or 80%) were white. The other 5% were Asian. McGraw reported that these numbers were in line with the racial makeup of Oberlin.
Conversely, former Oberlin president Krislov said in a deposition that the college had a “no trespass” list of 400 people who live in the area that were not allowed on school property. It contained a “disproportionate number of African-Americans on it,” he said.
It was suggested at trial that anger from students over this list led to the reaction against the bakery.
Oberlin Told Gibson’s If It Dropped The Shoplifting Charges, They Would Reinstate Their Contract
Oberlin stopped doing business with Gibson’s after the racism accusations. In December 2017, Tito Reed emailed Krislov suggesting that the college offer to start doing business with Gibson’s again if they stop pursuing shoplifting charges against the students.
“So can we draft a legal agreement clearly stating that once charges are dropped the [purchase] orders [with Gibson’s] will resume. I’m baffled by their combined audacity and arrogance to assume the position of victim,” Reed wrote.
In addition, David Gibson said, the school wanted the bakery to change its shoplifting policy for Oberlin students and call the college instead of the police.
“I told them we could not give students special treatment because this was something police had to deal with,” David said.
Meanwhile, all Gibson’s wanted was an apology from the school and a statement acknowledging the bakery wasn’t racist. David repeatedly offered to drop the lawsuit if the college would just admit they weren’t racist. The school refused, according to McGraw.
“Without [Oberlin College] coming out and offering a message that we were not racist, it was going to go on forever,” David testified. He also said he met with Oberlin officials at least three times in the months after the protests to try and get them to issue a statement saying the bakery was not racist. He said they could reconcile without going to court.
“They ignored me,” he said.”
He told former president Krislov that it would be difficult to lose the “racist” label. David said Krislov responded by dismissing the concern and saying, “I’ve been called a racist.”
Oberlin Didn’t Even Tell The Bakery They Were Cutting Off Their Deal
David said he only learned the college had cut ties with the bakery when the private service company that operated the school’s cafeterias called to let them know.
“The private company managers who called me all apologized for having to get rid of us after the good work we did for them, and I got the feeling they were forced to do so or there would be some problems for them if they didn’t,” David testified, according to McGraw. David added that he was told, “It comes from the college and it comes from the top.”
The Family Suffered An Emotional And Financial Toll Due To The False Accusations
Lorna Gibson had testified that business dropped by 50% after the protests and they had to lay off employees.
Allyn Gibson, David’s 90-year-old father, broke bones in his neck after his home was broken into months after the protests (police don’t know if the break-in is related). David wouldn’t go out because he was afraid that everyone thought he was a racist.
“It isn’t just a job for him and all of us,” Lorna said. “It’s been our life. It is crucial for him and our family. It is us.”
Allyn testified that the family had “some threats made to us” and that Oberlin students were afraid to shop at the bakery because they didn’t want their friends to “see that they shopped with us.”
Steve Gibson, David’s son and Allyn’s grandson, testified that Allyn has lost his positive outlook due to his injuries and the protests, “but we’re hoping he gets it back.”
David also worried his father would die with people thinking he was a racist.
“I realized very soon on how everything had been going in this, that my dad was going to pass away labeled as a racist,” he testified.
A damages expert testifying on behalf of the Gibson’s said the store “had already lost and will lose about $5.8 million from the school’s alleged racist accusations,” McGraw reported.
Frank Monaco, a certified public accountant, said his estimates were for the next 30 years, and based them on the fact the store had been in business for more than 130 years already. “[W]hen you have people thinking you’re racist, and you live in a small town, the accusation can last a lifetime,” he said.
Oberlin’s attorney asked Monaco if he was holding Oberlin College “responsible for every human being that doesn’t shop there anymore?” He also asked, “Do you understand my question?” when Monaco paused.
“Yes, do you understand my report?” Monaco responded.