UC Protests Lead to Conduct Charges for Several Students

When John Bruning left Harbor Justice Center on Jan. 26 with no charges from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, he expected it would be the last he would hear concerning his arrest.

Bruning was arrested last November during a protest at UCI by campus police officers and was charged for attempted vandalism and resisting arrest. He was given a court date and released.

However, upon arriving at the courthouse for his hearing in January, Bruning was surprised to learn that the district attorney chose not to pursue any charges against him.

Two months later on March 3, Bruning, along with four other UCI students, participated in a sit-in at a humanities building at CSU Fullerton. Cops detained and identified all students involved. The five UCI students were banned from the campus for seven days.

“The cops gave us the impression that there wouldn’t be any charges because they weren’t citing us on the spot. We weren’t being arrested,” Bruning said. But a few weeks later, the five UCI students (Bruning included) received letters from the district attorney’s office, charging them with trespassing and issuing them a May 6 court date.

A few days later on April 19, Bruning received a letter via e-mail charging him for violating several university policies – both during the November protest at UCI and the March occupation at CSUF.

“It’s hard to tell what to really make of it,” Bruning said. “It’s coming at a weird time, about six weeks after the second incident and almost six months after the first one.”

Bruning also expressed confusion over the charges by the University after being cleared by the district attorney’s office, as well as being charged for off-campus activities.

The University of California Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations and Students, however, has a section specifically about off-campus behavior and, in it, states, “the University shall have the discretion to exercise jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if it 1) adversely affects the health, safety or security of any member of the campus community or unity or 2) adversely affects the interests of the University.”

“The University has policies that allow them to call students in,” Associate Ombudsman Dennis DiPlacito confirmed.

A day after Bruning received his letter, the four other UCI students involved at the CSUF occupation received letters of their own, charging them for damaging property, trespassing and “violation of local, state or federal laws otherwise not covered under these standards of conduct.”

Regarding Bruning’s additional charges from November that were dropped by the district attorney’s office, Edgar Dormitorio, director of student conduct, responded in an e-mail, “The University operates separately in its administrative procedures and processes from outside governmental entities.”

Dormitorio declined to comment further.

These letters are not exclusive to UCI; over hundreds of letters like these have been sent to UC students across the state. At UC Santa Cruz, 36 students are being charged for an occupation in November and over a hundred March 4 protesters at UC Berkeley received letters offering them a seven-month suspension.

These actions lead Bruning to believe that he and other students are being targeted because of their political involvement. “My feeling about the Nov. 24 thing is that I was singled out then for being involved,” Bruning said, noting specifically the charge from the University accusing him of failing to identify himself when arrested. “They called me out by name when they arrested me. [They] knew who I was.”

“These charges are so vague,” Bruning said. “‘Disorderly or lewd conduct’ leaves a lot to the imagination.”

Bruning met with Dormitorio on April 26 to discuss charges and anticipates more meetings to come.

“I do not believe I have done anything illegal or unjustified,” Bruning wrote in a statement on the website, Occupy UCI! back in November after his arrest. “Even if I am prosecuted for these charges, I will never give up the struggle. They may beat us or jail us but they will never stop our movement.”