by Andie Diemer
Nov. 13, 2008
When sophomore Andy Milne showed up at Gov. Sarah Palin’s campaign stop in Latham Park on Oct. 16 with Obama flyers in hand, he had no idea that later that day he would wind up in jail or eventually be charged with disorderly conduct by both Elon University and Alamance County.
His parents were notified by the administration after the occurance and asked to have their son contact them, since it was fall break. After that Milne received a notice of judicial action for disorderly conduct through e-mail.
Milne said he gained entrance to the rally while wearing a McCain button and holding a sign on top of his poster that said “The Bush Tax cut saved the economy four more years.”
“I went in knowing I was not allowed to bring in the signs, but also knowing they were not following the rules across the board,” he said. “It was specifically designed to make it so only Republican’s messages could be displayed.”
After the crowd started to chant “USA” at him, he began to chant it back, along with other phrases like “No blood for oil” and “Obama.”
After College Republicans President Nick Ochsner called the police, Milne was arrested for disturbing the peace.
As they normally do with any Elon student, the police brought Milne’s case to the school’s attention, Coordinator for Judicial Affairs Whitney Pack Gregory said.
Gregory said once a report is in the school’s hands, they have to determine if there has been any potential Honor Code violations as defined by Elon’s Student Handbook. With each case that is turned over, judicial affairs then has to decide if they can deem a possible occurrence of a violation.
If so, the student is contacted to discuss the incident and possible violation and judicial charge, Gregory said.
“During this meeting, we ensure the student understands the judicial charge as defined by Elon University and not necessarily by the legal or civil system,” she said.
Milne met with Jodean Schmiederer, assistant dean of students, about two weeks ago regarding his arrest. Schmierderer told him she had already viewed a video of the event as it unfolded and Milne did not bring any witnesses.
The Elon Student Handbook defines Disorderly Conduct as “conduct which is offensive or annoying to others or is disruptive of the rights of others.”
Milne was told he was still “held responsible.”
“I think that is so broad that you can basically charge anyone that is annoying at anytime,” he said. “By those same standards it’s not fair because saying ‘A vote for Obama is a vote for killing babies’ is offensive for anybody voting for Obama.”
He said the administration also brought up the fact that he could have incited others to violence, but he found that frustrating as he viewed his actions as peaceful.
This is Milne’s first offense and he is not facing suspension, fines or restitution hours. But the occurence will stay on his Elon record, which is one reason he appealed his case.
While he is waiting to hear back about his appeal, he also filed an incident report against Ochsner through Elon to share his account of the event, since he said the video did not show him being peaceful before being approahced by Ochsner.
“His actions were clearly out of line,” Milne said. “I think that it is ridiculous that they have filed charges against me and not against the kid that was literally grabbing onto me and calling the police and ripping the sign out of my hands.”
Ochsner said Milne acted inappropriately after Ochsner approached him about the Obama signs in his possession. He said the following conversation was disorderly and considers it the reason for Milne’s arrest.
“He can say he just went through a rally with an arm full of Obama signs, but that does not make him an innocent bystander,” Ochsner said.
Milne said he was upset the campaign was not following the rules of no handmade signs permitted into the arena. After seeing multiple messages on signs that were pro-Republican, Milne felt it was his First Amendment right to show his support for Obama.
While no one was permitted to bring signs in, Ochsner said it is not an uncommon practice for the campaign to distribute handmade signs to audience members.
“Unfortunately, people like Andy have a clear misunderstanding of the First Amendment,” he said. “While people do have their rights to express themselves, they have to do so properly.”
Ochsner said Elon has a set code of conduct and Milne clearly didn’t obey the law in this situation.
“Every other student is subjected to that honor code and so should he,” he said. “I should be held to that standard and had I been arrested I hope the university would hold me to those charges too. He’s the one that was arrested and that’s why he’s facing the repercussions.”
Milne, whose parents offered to pay for a lawyer, said he doesn’t feel comfortable having them pay for something he directly did.
He plans to have a lawyer present on his court date and has been in contact with the district attorney’s office as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.
He said he will plead not guilty to disorderly conduct at his Alamance County court hearing on Nov. 19 because he doesn’t think he is guilty.
But until then, he is still fighting for his freedom of speech and his political beliefs.
As he was being ejected from the rally, Palin stopped speaking and requested the police officers leave Milne inside so he could learn something.
“In most cases I would be honored if a vice presidental candidate were talking about me,” Milne said. “I wish I had had the chance to go back there and learn something from the crowd and had the chance to talk to her. I think I could have taught her something too.”
Watch to see Milne’s arrest unfold at Palin’s rally:
Video courtesy of Dan Rickershauser.
Milne’s letter of appeal to Elon:
To whom it may concern,
I would like to appeal my case based off of new evidence. I want to bring in witnesses to the event in question which will shed light on my own actions and the actions of Nick Oschler, which as far as I can tell are being completely ignored by Elon University. These witnesses will provide evidence that Elon University’s charging me with disorderly conduct is completely without reason or merit, is only because I was arrested, and violates the first amendment of the United States Constitution. The Constitution is the highest law of the United States of America and has higher judicial power than either the laws of Elon University or the laws of North Carolina which got me arrested and made Elon University feel that it is necessary to figure out something to charge me with. As a reminder the first amendment reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (U.S. Constitution)
Holding a sign at a rally which happens to have a different opinion than all of the other handmade signs at the rally is certainly a right under this great amendment authored by Thomas Jefferson. As the plethora of video footage and witnesses will clearly demonstrate, I did not chant anything until after I was grabbed by multiple people, yelled at to leave and had a sign ripped from my hands. In the first judicial hearing, I was not allowed to bring up Nick Oschler’s actions because of them not being relevant to what I did. The fact of the matter is; however, that they are relevant. The head of college Republicans has no right to go up to someone who is peacefully holding a sign, yell at them to leave the rally, call the cops on the person, grab at him repeatedly, and rip the sign out of his hands. By doing that, he not only actually did violate the Elon Honor code but he also violated my right to free speech in the appropriate way I was expressing it: holding a handmade sign like hundreds of other people at the rally.
When I lost that right to free speech which Thomas Jefferson wrote into our constitution over 200 years ago I started chanting “No more blood for oil”, “Obama”, and “Don’t shoot wolves from planes”. I believe that we should not shoot wolves from planes, that no more Americans should die so oil companies can make profit, and that Barack Obama should be the next President of the United States of America, but more importantly than any of those beliefs is the fundamental right to peacefully express them which is given to all Americans. A right which Nick Oschler took away from me at the rally and which Elon University is taking away from me with this bogus claim of disorderly conduct while ignoring the crimes of someone who actually did violate the honor code. That person of course is Nick Oschler, the of the head of Elon’s College Republicans, not a police officer, who flipped out when he saw me with a sign equating McCain/Palin to Exxon/Mobil, but has no problem stepping all over the United States Constitution just like those at Elon who say the first amendment doesn’t apply to this case. Maybe if we had more people exercising their constitutional rights to peacefully protest and fewer people jumping to violence like Nick Oschler then we wouldn’t have over 4,000 Americans dead in Iraq in a war about oil and then maybe I wouldn’t have felt the need to hold a sign equating John McCain and Sara Palin to Exxon and Mobil.
Give Peace a Chance