Student-Activist Arrested at RIT 5/10/98

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- Troy Dayton for DRCNet

In what some believe was an act of political persecution, Shea Gunther, President of the Rochester Cannabis Coalition (RCC) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), was arrested last Thursday (4/23) on two counts of disorderly conduct by the Henrietta Police Department, and five counts of campus policy violations. Gunther was asked to leave an academic building -- otherwise open to all students -- where the Board of Trustees was meeting, but refused. He was dragged out in handcuffs without being arrested and was later charged. He has been suspended from the University for one year.

Last month, RIT President Albert Simone denied the RCC official university recognition even after it was approved by a student board. In a letter regarding the decision addressed to Gunther, Simone indicated that recognition of such a club would "send the wrong message" and that "local drug dealers" would see the club as a sign that "RIT students use drugs" and would descend upon the campus bringing with them increased violence and drug use. Following that decision, Gunther met with President Simone and his advisor, Barry Culhane, but got no relief. Next, Gunther asked if he could speak to the Board of Trustees and was denied. On Thursday, April 23, the Board of Trustees was meeting in the building from which Gunther was removed.

According to Gunther, Culhane spotted him on his way in the building and called Campus Safety. Within minutes, an officer arrived to warn him not to enter the building. Gunther asked what would happen if he did and the officer couldn't produce an answer. Shea entered and was soon surrounded by five officers. Gunther asked if he was being arrested and for what. They did not produce an answer and instead tried to force him out of the building. Gunther resisted and soon found himself face down on the floor with five officers forcibly holding him down and cuffing him.

"I knew the meeting was going on but was not planning on doing anything. I had no literature on me and was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. If I were planning on interacting with the Trustees, I certainly would have shown up armed with information and dressed appropriately," said Gunther.

The Week Online spoke with William McKee, Director of RIT News Services about the incident. Although the Buckley Amendment prohibits university officials from releasing information about student judicial hearings, McKee did have a statement. "Shea's account is at complete odds with what was reported by campus officials and Monroe County Deputy Officials. When asked to leave the building, he resisted and became violent," said McKee.

Approximately 300 students gathered outside during Gunther's judicial hearing, where he was given one year's suspension. When President Albert Simone left the building he was met with jeers from the protesters.

"RIT students are deeply concerned about the abuse of power. It's troubling that Barry Culhane would use Campus Safety as his personal S.S. troops. They are not finished with me. They have lost. They just don't know it yet," said Gunther. "I don't care how much a person might hate the idea of cannabis law reform, to go to these extreme measures to silence a voice of dissent is un-American. The thing that gets me is that if we were just approved as an official club, we might have made the six-o'clock news and they would have forgotten about us. As it is now, everyone knows about the Rochester Cannabis Coalition," Shea Gunther told Marijuana News ( Gunther plans on taking a year off to start a drug policy reform graphics business and pursue litigation against RIT.

NOTE: Shea Gunther, who has been working closely with DRCNet throughout the past five months, has limited means and is attempting to raise $600 to cover the costs of his criminal defense. If you can help at all, please send (non-tax deductible) checks to:

    Shea Gunther
    197 D Perkins Road
    Rochester, NY 14623

And send us an e-mail indicating that you did so, and what amount. Any additional money will be either returned, or else used for related campus-based organizing, as per your request. Thanks.

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Issue #41, 5/10/98 Large Swath of Appalachia Declared High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area | Federal Marijuana Eradication Program Seizes Nothing but Ditchweed, State Auditor's Report Says | Indiana Reporter Arrested after Exposing Drug Task Force Corruption | Memorial: Wesley Pomeroy, Law Enforcement Professional, Outspoken Advocate of Reform | California: Dave Herrick Denied Medical Defense | Student-Activist Arrested at RIT | Jurors Outraged at Mandatory Life Without Parole for Woman after First Offense | Australian Study: Marijuana Decriminalization Has No Impact on Rates of Use | Editorial: Substances, Substances
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