The petition demands that criminal trespassing charges brought against 18 members of the coalition during a peaceful sit-in at Powers’ office last spring be immediately dropped. Powers does not have the ability to drop the charges himself and has said the case is now in the hands of the County Attorney.
“It got turned over to the [County Attorney], and that is the County Attorney’s business,” Powers said.
However, the coalition members believe Powers could influence the County Attorney and ask for dismissal of the charges on their behalf.
Corby Holcomb, assistant trial director for the Travis County Attorney’s Office, said last week that the victim or entity in a criminal trespassing case normally has a say in the charging and sentencing decisions.
“Normally, on a criminal trespass case, say, the property owner where the person was trespassing, they would definitely have input,” he said.
Holcomb declined to comment on the specific influence the University would have in this case, as it is currently ongoing.
The coalition members participated in the sit-in last spring to try and convince the University to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions of factory employees internationally. Powers announced in July that UT would join the consortium to monitor conditions at some of the factories that manufacture UT apparel. The students will face trial on the charges Friday in Travis County Court, where they will have to either take one of two pleas offered to them or continue to fight the charges.
Government junior Lucy Griswold, who was arrested at the sit-in, said she believes the charges should be dropped because the sit-in was of a peaceful nature and held as a last resort effort.
“We were peacefully protesting, and this was after years of escalation in the campaign where we had used all of the democratic avenues offered on campus to have a dialogue with the University,” she said.
Griswold said if the University remains silent, it will also send a negative message to the rest of the campus community.
“We feel the charges should be dropped to reserve the right of protests on campus,” she said. “Essentially, this has always been about freedom of speech.”
Dana Cloud, associate professor of rhetoric and writing, said even if the charges are not dropped and the students stand trial Friday, the coalition will continue efforts to have the charges dismissed.
“We are not going to let this go down without a fight,” she said.
Printed on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 as: Petition requests Powers to drop case