The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 81.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Penn and Francis are cleared by COD



Pair were Accused of

Assaulting Officers

during March 2 Protest



(By Linda D'Angelo

and Dave Watt)


The Committee on Discipline has found Ronald W. Francis G and Steven D. Penn G "innocent on all counts" of assault and assault and battery on a police officer after 11 hours of hearings last Tuesday and Wednesday, Penn said after a telephone conversation with Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Arnold R. Henderson Jr.

Penn and Francis believe that the COD decision supports their claims that the case was not grounded in factual evidence and that the Campus Police, who brought the charges before the committee, did so to harass Penn and Francis for their political activities on campus, specifically their active role in organizing divestment protests as members of the Coalition Against Apartheid.

The COD has yet to notify Penn and Francis of the decision in writing and will not do so for about two weeks, according to COD chair Sheila A. Widnall '60. While she stated that "at some time we will be able to communicate with the community," Widnall refused to comment specifically on the Penn and Francis case.

Before evidence against them was presented, Penn and Francis tried to persuade the COD to allow them to videotape the proceedings, waiving their right to privacy and arguing that the MIT community had a right to view the proceedings. The committee denied permission to tape the proceedings.

Widnall later commented that the COD's rules do not provide for taping, and that she was not sure if the COD was even legally allowed to permit open hearings, citing an interest in protecting students' rights. In accord with their usual procedure, the COD did make an audio tape of the proceedings.

The charges against Penn and Francis stemmed from CP statements on a March 2 demonstration organized by the coalition. During the protest, demonstrators called for South African divestment in front of the home of President Paul E. Gray '54 and in the lobby of Building E52 during an MIT Corporation meeting and luncheon.

The police had charged Penn and Francis with assault, claiming they "led a rush of demonstrators into [the] elevator at E52," and that this rush "caused an injury to Officer Rosie Sanders." After three months, Sanders has still not returned to work.

Francis was also charged with assault and battery on a police officer for allegedly kicking Officer Robert J. Molino while demonstrators were trying to enter the sixth floor from the stairwell of E52.

Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin was disappointed by the COD decision. "I think it is unfortunate that that was the decision," she commented.

Penn charged that the COD lacked established procedures. There is "no documentation on either how the COD proceeds or formal categories of its rulings," he said. Penn argued that the lack of procedures "allows for a lot of arbitrariness on the part of the chair, [who is] given discretion to do whatever is seen as reasonable."

COD keeps hearing closed

Penn and Francis' attempt to get the hearings opened to the MIT community took up the first three hours of the hearing on Thursday, according to Francis. Penn said that he and Francis waived their rights to privacy, arguing that the MIT community should have been able to view the proceedings, and brought in a videocamera and witnesses who would have viewed the proceedings. According to Penn, the COD refused, saying that committee members, too, had a right to privacy.

The students then argued that the community had invested the COD with power, and with that power should come a degree of scrutiny, but that also failed to win the COD over, Penn said. Widnall said later that the COD rules do not provide for videotaping the proceedings.

Finally, said Penn, "the committee threatened to move the trial to another room without us if we did not" give in. At that time the witnesses left and Penn and Francis agreed there would be no videocamera.

Penn, Francis not in

elevator, CPs say

According to Penn, the Campus Police's own witnesses admitted that the two students were not in the elevator when the injury to Sanders occurred. While Penn was accused of assault for leading the rush into the elevator, Detective Eugene H. Salois "testified that he was with me in the back of the lobby when the rush occurred," Penn said. Officer Cheryl Vossmer also testified that Penn was not in the elevator, according to Penn.

"Since Vossmer was in the elevator," Penn argued, the CPs "should have asked her if we were there." The fact that they did not, Penn added, shows that "they couldn't even prove [the charges] themselves, with their own witnesses, and they knew it."

Although Glavin refused to comment on the proceedings in the COD hearing because she was not present at the hearing, a source within the Campus Police Department confirmed that CPs did indeed testify that Penn was not in the elevator.

COD standards questioned

Penn charged that the COD lacks firm rules for introducing evidence, and claimed that Widnall refused to let him introduce some photographs unless he gave her the whole roll of film.

Widnall would not confirm or deny these claims by Penn, but said that the COD "will take any evidence that a student wishes to bring."

"I might say if you present this the committee might say can we have the following things. Everything is admissible," Widnall continued.

The COD "has no policy and they also have no precedents," Penn concluded.

Reaction to decision

Penn believed that while Glavin "may deny it . . . she knew that I was nowhere near [the elevator] and that she brought these cases forward to harass me for my political activity."

Penn was not surprised that he and Francis were found innocent of the charges against them. "They had about as much chance of voting against me as they did changing the laws of physics, and they should have known that before they brought this case to trial," he said in a recent interview.

"I think that Glavin is either through incompetence or through her selective use of evidence committing harassment, and that Widnall should have demanded much higher standards of evidence and should not have tolerated the level of unsubstantiated claims that the CPs were making," Penn said.

Penn repeated his charge that the COD case was politically motivated. While Glavin "may deny it," he said, "she knew that I was nowhere near [the elevator] and that she brought these cases forward to harass me for my political activity."

Glavin denied political motives, saying that she did "feel it was a legitimate case of assault on the officers," and stated that assault was "the sole issue."