A Lorain County grand jury is expected to decide next month on charges against the main suspect in a racially-charged shoplifting incident at Gibson’s bakery.
Jonathan Aladin’s case was dismissed Wednesday in Oberlin Municipal Court by Judge Thomas Januzzi at the request of Chief Prosecutor Frank Carlson. The dismissal was on the condition that the case go to a grand jury.
Carlson said the grand jury will decide whether Aladin should be charged with a second-degree felony robbery charge or attempted theft, a second-degree misdemeanor. The grand jury could also decide there are no grounds for charges although that is unlikely.
If the grand jury indicts Aladin for robbery, the case would be tried in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. If indicted on a lesser count of attempted theft, the case would go back to Oberlin.
The case is over a Nov. 10 incident at the West College Street bakery. Police said bakery employee Allyn Gibson was assaulted by Aladin, a 19-year-old Oberlin College sophomore who allegedly tried to shoplift two bottles of wine and fled the store.
Gibson said that after chasing Aladin across the street from the bakery, Aladin knocked him to the ground, punched him and threatened to kill him, according to a police report. Gibson sustained several bruises and cuts.
Students Endia Lawrence and student Cecilia Whettstone are also accused of punching and kicking Gibson and were charged with misdemeanor assault. The cases against each are pending.
The incident led to hundreds of students from all ethnic backgrounds protesting outside Gibson’s for two days, accusing the store of racially profiling black people such as Aladin. Counter-protests by mostly white people in support of Gibson’s occurred in response.
Carlson tried to settle the case with a plea bargain on Dec. 14 but Januzzi did not accept it, angering Carlson. Aladin would’ve pleaded guilty to attempted theft in exchange for the robbery charge being dropped.
Oberlin College hasn’t bought baked goods from Gibson’s since Nov. 14 in response to the racial allegations. The boycott has occurred despite police statistics showing 36 of the 58 people charged with shoplifting at Gibson’s since 2011 were white.
Januzzi said Dec. 14 that he rejected the plea deal because he thought Gibson and his family might have agreed to it in hopes of ending the boycott.
While Carlson said Ohio law allows store owners to detain suspected shoplifters, he argued witnesses disputed who was the aggressor in the incident and that the attempted theft charge was more appropriate. Aladin has no criminal record.
Carlson said Lawrence and Whettstone, due back in court in Oberlin Feb. 1, contend they were defending Aladin. “Had there been a conviction of attempted theft, in my view, they would not have had the defense of protection of others available to them in their assault case,” he said
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.