A grand jury has leveled robbery indictments against three suspects whose arrests in November led to racially-charged protests outside Gibson’s Bakery on West College Street.
Jonathan Aladin of Ewing, N.J., Endia Lawrence of Oberlin, and Cecelia Whettston of Oberlin face first-degree felony counts.
Aladin was also indicted with forgery, a first-degree misdemeanor.
The 19-year-olds turned themselves in at the Lorain County Jail and were released on $10,000 bond, according to records.
Oberlin police were sent Gibson’s Bakery at 4:58 p.m. on Nov. 9 for a theft complaint.
According to an incident report, officers were told employee Allyn Gibson was attempting to catch a person who was seen stealing bottles of wine. When police arrived, they saw Gibson on his back on Tappan Square, being punched and kicked by the suspects.
He told investigators that Aladin had threatened to kill him. Gibson had a swollen lip, abrasions on his arms and wrists, and a small cut on his neck, the report said.
Police collected a counterfeit South Carolina ID card and credit card, both bearing Aladin’s name.
The report notes that several people at the scene “were initially interfering with officers attempting to gain control of the situation” and told police that Gibson “was the aggressor and the black man didn’t do anything wrong.”
Aladin, Lawrence, and Whettston are black. Gibson is white.
The following day, the News-Tribune found a large crowd of protesters outside the bakery with signs and a bullhorn. They identified themselves as Oberlin College students.
At first, the protesters were extremely hostile and shouted profanities at reporters. Eventually, some talked to us, saying the incident had been racially motivated.
“This is a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination,” said literature handed out at the protest.
It claimed the suspects were racially profiled at the scene and arrested without being questioned, asked their names, or read their rights.
Assault charges followed but Oberlin Municipal Court judge Thomas Januzzi rejected a plea bargain in December. Aladin had agreed to plead guilty to theft, a misdemeanor in the second degree, in exchange for dismissal of a felony robbery charge.
Januzzi wrote that his decision was based on the threat of a “permanent economic sanction” against the bakery had the plea deal moved ahead.
Gibson’s lost a great deal of business after the incident, including daily orders by Oberlin College. Students called for a unilateral boycott of the century-old bakery.
Januzzi wrote that “the court is concerned about the potential precedent setting of permitting a business owner under these circumstances to assent to such an agreement where a serious crime is alleged.”
Prosecutor Frank Carlson said there was no evidence the suspects had been racially profiled.
He said theft charges automatically escalate to robbery when a shoplifting suspect physically resists being detained and flees.
Note: Cecelia Whettston’s surname is spelled Whettstone in police records but in court documents appears as written in this article.
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