By: Mike Rhodes
You would think that Fresno City College, like other institutions of higher learning, would do everything in its power to support academic freedom and free speech. Our faith was shaken a couple of years ago when we asked the administration if we could place Community Alliance newsstands on the FCC campus. We were given the runaround and told that they were concerned the newspaper would be a littering problem. As if a possible littering problem trumps our right to free speech and the Constitution of the United States. We pressed them on it, and they relented.
But our problems at FCC are dwarfed by those who have had the misfortune to run into members of the campus police there. This month, I devote this space to the issue of due process and free speech at Fresno City College.
Does your constitutional right to free speech, freedom to assemble and protection from unreasonable search and seizure vanish into thin air when you step onto the Fresno City College campus?
Ask Greg and Demone Moultrie, who are still sitting in the Fresno County Jail, what they think. According to witnesses, Greg Moultrie was walking on campus with his skateboard in his hands on September 25 when he was stopped by a campus police officer. The officer ordered Moultrie to hand over his skateboard. When he did not want to comply with what he felt was an unreasonable request, the incident escalated and Demone Moultrie, Greg’s brother, got involved. As officers scuffled with the Moultries, a student at the Native American Intertribal Student Association table got on the group’s PA system and encouraged students to use their cell phones to film the incident.
In videos on the Internet, you can see the chaotic scene, including one of the officers hitting Demone with his baton. Greg was sprayed with mace. Greg is now—more than three months after this incident—still sitting in the Fresno County Jail. He has just been sentenced to a 3-year sentence for charges filed against him in the skateboarding incident. When I went to visit Demone on December 22, Greg was in The Hole – solitary confinement. Demone is also still in jail and is scheduled to be sent to Chino State Prison on January 21, all because of this skateboarding incident. How could something as simple as walking across the FCC campus with a skateboard end up with two young men in jail for a prolonged period of time?
In an attempt to find out the answer to this question, I talked to students at FCC and contacted the Public Information Office. I received a response from Joseph Callahan, Chief of Police with the State Center Community College District who defended their “skateboarding is a crime” policy by stating that “once skateboards get away from their owner, they are little more than missiles capable of great harm.”
Just before school let out for winter break, I talked to JP, who was sitting on a bench next to the fountain where the incident had occurred. He had his skateboard with him. I asked if he had ever had any trouble with the police, and he told me about two incidents when he had his skateboard confiscated. “They took my skateboard when I was on the sidewalk on the McKinley side of the campus, and I had to pay $16 to get it back.”
Callahan says that if the fine is not paid within twenty-one days it doubles. He went on to say that “skateboards that are not claimed will be held for ninety days. After ninety days a letter will be mailed to the owner advising them that if they do not come in and pick up their property within thirty days, it will be transferred to the Director of Maintenance and Operations for auction.” That might explain why the police have a more than causal interest in confiscating skateboards, whether or not students are in violation of any rules.
Rigo Garcia is a member of the Sustainable Action Club at FCC. He said that “after the skateboarding incident in September, we tried to hold a forum on campus to discuss the incident.” Even though the club is a campus group, the school administration refused to allow them to use a building for the forum, in part because “they said we are an environmental group and that this issue didn’t have anything to do with the environment.” Garcia said that Sustainable Action is a social and economic justice group and that they should be able to discuss issues of concern on the campus. He feels the refusal by the FCC administration to allow them to use a room to discuss this issue was a violation of their free speech rights.
The FCC administration, immediately following the September 25 incident, banned campus groups from setting up tables near the fountain. Garcia said they claimed that it was a “security concern” because emergency vehicles would have a hard time getting on campus with student tables in the fountain area, but it is commonly understood at FCC that the ban was in response to the student group that got on the PA system, announced that the police were attacking students and asked if someone could turn on their cell phone and video the incident. The December 2 FCC Rampage (the student newspaper) had an in-depth story connecting the ban on tables at the fountain and the skateboarding incident.
“FCC has a new video surveillance system with a camera focused on the fountain, but they are telling us that somehow that camera was not working on September 25,” Garcia said. The missing video could have shown what happened before the police confronted, hit and arrested Greg and Demone Moultrie. Instead, what you have is missing video that would have given insight into the incident and the FCC administration retaliating against student groups because they encouraged fellow students to document the incident. In addition, they tried to prevent students from discussing the incident by refusing to allow Sustainable Action to hold a forum on the incident. What is it about academic freedom that the FCC administration doesn’t understand?
An unrelated, but equally baffling, incident happened to Joshua Trevino as he was getting ready to leave the FCC campus on November 22. Trevino describes what happened to him:
I was unlocking my bike when I received an important phone call. I finished unlocking my bike and stood next to it while I continued my phone conversation. Officer Cadwell drove up behind me, stopped and listened to my conversation. I thought that he would see that I was a student (I was wearing the standard overloaded backpack) that had just stopped to answer my phone, and then he would move on. Instead, he interrupted my conversation to say: “Is everything alright over here?” (This was said with a heavily sarcastic tone of mock concern.) I turned, nodded and waved that I was fine.
I then turned back to my bike and conversation, trying to politely indicate that I was trying to have a private conversation. I was hoping that this would be the end of our interaction and that he would continue his patrol. Instead, he sat there for another minute and then sarcastically said, “Have a good night.” I turned and waved again.
He sat there another minute and then said, “Make sure to have a happy Thanksgiving!” This was said with the heaviest sarcasm yet and yelled loud enough to make the person I was speaking with stop mid-sentence to ask, “What the hell was that?” I told them that I was being hassled by campus police and that we should rap up our conversation.
Officer Cadwell drove a couple hundred feet N/E to the traffic circle, turned around and came right back. Officer Cadwell then asked me what my phone conversation was about. I told my friend to hold on a minute and answered Officer Cadwell that I was making plans for the evening. He told me, “You better not stay here.” I responded that I had no intention of staying the night on campus.
He then drove around the main fountain and came right back. As Officer Cadwell was driving up to me for the third time, I figured that his plan was to keep harassing me until I left campus. So I told my friend that I would have to call them back, hung up and took my bike off the rack.
Officer Cadwell pulled up, jumped out and seized my bike. He told me to put my backpack down and sit down with my hands on my knees. He then asked for a driver’s license, and I said that I wasn’t carrying one because I was riding a bike. He told me that I was required to carry my driver’s license anyways, and I told him that was not true.
He then asked me for a student ID, and I told him that I didn’t have mine on me. He told me that I was required to carry a student ID anytime I am on campus, and I told him that was not true.
He told me to give him something with my name on it, and I told him I didn’t have anything like that with me. He insisted that I must have something in my backpack with my name on it. So I took my welding gloves out of my pack and showed him that my name was written on them. He said that I must have a piece of paper in my pack with my name on it, and I restated that I didn’t. I gave him my student ID number, and he had his partner run it.
While we were waiting, Officer Cadwell searched me, including sticking his hands in all my pockets. Officer Cadwell’s partner told him that my ID checked out and that I was a student enrolled in the welding program.
Officer Cadwell no longer had any lawful reason to detain me and therefore was required to release me from custody. Instead, he asked me if he could search my backpack, and I told him no. He said, “Well I’m going to search it anyways.” I told him that was illegal, and his partner told me, “We don’t need your permission to search your pack, it just makes it easier.” I told him that was not true.
Officer Cadwell then took his time, searching my pack very thoroughly. After this illegal search and detainment, Officer Cadwell then assumed the most threatening posture and tone he could, and told me that I must leave campus immediately.
Garcia has a theory about why the FCC police behave the way they do. He says that when officers in the notoriously aggressive Fresno Police Department get into trouble, they end up with the FCC campus police. That could explain the culture at the FCC campus police, but it does not explain why the FCC administration allows these violations of basic constitutional rights to continue. If these violations continue, it is only a matter of time before an organization such as the American Civil Liberties Union becomes involved and files a lawsuit, resulting in a huge settlement or judgment against the college.
The “Outrage of the Month” is an ongoing series of articles in the Community Alliance that we write to illustrate some of the crazy incidents that happen in this city. If you have a story that you would like us to consider for the next issue, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.