|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 13, 2012 at 1:20 AM|
Protesters Plead Not Guilty, Await Possible Trial
By Roshani Chokshi and Jordan Friedman
The seven individuals — including four Emory graduate students — who were arrested in April 2011 for trespassing on the Emory Quadrangle while protesting the alleged mistreatment of Sodexo’s employees declared that they are not guilty yesterday and now await news regarding a possible jury trial on June 4.
The maximum sentence for a criminal-trespassing conviction is one year in prison.
Prior to their arraignment, Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS) members held an outdoor press conference on the Quad outside Emory’s Administration Building. Speakers gathered around one of the original tents where some of the arrested individuals had been pulled out of before being escorted to the DeKalb County Jail by the Emory Police Department last spring.
During the press conference, other members of SWS held signs that cited alleged instances of injustice on the part of Sodexo, Emory’s food employer, to workers and also called for free Metropolitan Atlanta Railroad Transportation Authority (MARTA) passes for all contracted Emory employees.
Sixth year Ph.D. student Emiko Soltis said that the individuals were not arrested for criminal trespass but for the content of their speech.
“The continued prosecution is even more unacceptable,” she said during the press conference. “Our only intent has and will remain to seek equality and justice for all working members on this campus.”
Third-year student in the Rollins School of Public Health Roger Sikes also expressed disapproval at the presence of Ron Sauder, vice president of communications and marketing, and Elaine Justice, associate director of media relations, at the event.
“Instead of dealing with workers’ rights issues on our campus Emory chooses to employ their [public relations] strategy to divide workers and students,” Sikes wrote in an email to the Wheel.
Soltis and Sikes said that Emory has the influence to drop the charges. Despite offers from the administration to work with the arrested individuals to seek dismissal of the pending charges, Soltis and Sikes maintained that they would not sign the conditional agreement because of “vaguely defined policies.”
In a previous interview with the Wheel, Soltis added that the conditional charges were unappealing to the arrested individuals because “we don’t think it’s reasonable to make us sign away our rights.”
“Emory admits they can get the charges dropped but only if we give up our civil rights and admit that we were wrong to sit on our own campus Quadrangle in protest,” Sikes wrote in an email to the Wheel.
However, Senior Vice President and General Counsel Stephen Sencer said in a previous email with the Wheel that only the prosecutor — the DeKalb County Solicitor — can dismiss the criminal accusation.
In addition, Sauder wrote in an email to the Wheel, “With regard to the pending charges, Emory University remains interested in working with the students who were arrested for trespass on April 25, 2011. To that end, Emory’s counsel has spoken with their counsel in the past with an offer of cooperation and has reached out again this week. To move the process forward, we respectfully suggest that the arrested individuals put their attorney in touch with Emory’s, as Emory’s offer still stands.”
Soltis said that all SWS asked for was the creation of an “accountable mechanism” such as a President’s Commission on Class and Labor in addition to administrative subsidization of MARTA passes to subcontracted workers.
Sauder wrote that the University administration “does not believe that the formation of a permanent body to examine labor conditions is warranted.”