Attorneys try to get College Fest charges dismissed

Theresa Edwards

Thirty-three people arrested during College Fest in April are trying to get their failure to disperse charges dismissed.

Defense attorneys William LeFaiver, a private practitioner, Carol Crimi and J. Chris Sestak, of Student Legal Services, want the charges dismissed because, according to their submitted motions, the complaints did not comply with the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure.

A complaint is a notice of criminal charges against a person.

The attorneys argued that the arresting officers failed to identify individuals arrested that evening and, thus, the officers who signed the complaints could not have had any reason to believe crimes had been committed.

The hearing took place Friday afternoon at the Kent division of the Portage County Municipal Court and will continue at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow.

LeFaiver said no officer who issued complaints could identify each individual arrested.

“The officers cannot even testify that these people were in the area,” he said.

When Lt. John Altomare and Sgt. Jim Prusha of the Kent Police Department took the stand, both officers said they could not identify each specific individual involved.

“I was present during numerous arrests,” Prusha said. He also said he signed complaints for many individuals when he went back to the department and was not present for their arrests.

The Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure does not say the officer signing the complaint needs prior knowledge of the incident.

Prusha and Altomare testified there were about 1,000 people on College Avenue between South Depeyster and South Willow streets that evening. Prusha said about 70 officers from other departments were called to assist city police when the crowd began throwing rocks and bottles at officers.

The two officers testified that police gave several warnings to the crowd to disperse or they would be arrested. Altomare said he initially sent officers up to houses to give the warnings but had officers back off when they saw it wasn’t working.

Kent City Police have a mass arrest form, which was used during College Fest. The forms have space on them to identify the individual arrested and for a description of the individual, as well as what the charges were and where they were arrested.

“There were a lot of different people who gathered information,” Prusha said, concerning the arrests made that night.

LaFaiver asked both officers where the mass arrest forms are kept and maintained. Prusha didn’t know, but Altomare said it’s not a paper that has to be kept. The information gets transferred to the booking slip and doesn’t need to be maintained anymore.

Prusha testified that about half the time he signs a complaint in which he relied on information from other resources and was not necessarily the arresting officer – so this is not the first time that has happened.

Rob Charles, a senior education major, was charged with failure to disperse at College Fest. He said he lived on College Avenue at the time and was sitting on his porch when an officer came up and arrested him. He said he did not hear the notice to disperse.

“It was so loud, ” he said. “People were screaming.”

He said that even if he had heard the notice, he was at his house, and wouldn’t have fully understood the officers’ orders.

“Where was I supposed to disperse to?” he said.

Contact public affairs reporter Theresa Edwards at [email protected].