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A Middlesex County judge today dismissed the case against four Harvard undergraduates who were arrested last month for their protest during a speech by the director of the FBI.
The decision brought to a close in under a minute a two-week saga that prompted debate across the University about free speech on campus.
Harvard asked that charges be dropped and said that the university would handle matters internally, said presiding Justice Roanne Sragow, at the pre-trial hearing in the Cambridge District Court this morning.
The University said it would pursue this course of action in a statement released May 1, five days after the students were first arrested. The four were also informed by their senior tutors that they will not be facing disciplinary action from the administrative board.
Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky ’07, one of the arrested students, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“This is a good day for civil liberties and student rights because if Harvard had allowed its own students to be prosecuted for exercising their right to protest it would have really chilled free speech on our campus,” he said.
Gould-Wartofsky, Kelly L. Lee ’07, Maura A. Roosevelt ’07 and J. Claire Provost ’07 were facing charges of disturbing a public assembly for their sustained interruption of a speech given at the Institute of Politics by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on April 26.
The arrest came under scrutiny when a review of video footage from the event revealed several inconsistencies in the police report filed after their arrest, including an incorrect order of events and misquotations of the comments the students yelled. According to the students, they were also not given a warning before they were removed from the forum, which would represent a breach of free speech guidelines approved by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1990.
The rapid dismissal left the students momentarily shell-shocked as they exited the courtroom.
“I am happy that it ended so quickly and relatively painlessly,” Lee said. “I really do think that it was all the media attention and community support that got it to end so quickly.”
Provost said that while she was pleased with the dismissal of the case, she hopes that it will not sweep issues of free speech and civil liberties on campus under the rug.
“I’m afraid that our treatment by the police has and will intimidate people from peaceful protest,” she said.
Provost and Gould-Wartofsky both said that Harvard should issue a public apology, which did not appear in the May 1 statement.
“Harvard has to make an active and public commitment to making free speech and peaceful dissent a mainstay of this campus,” Lee said.
Gould-Wartofsky, Provost and Lee were represented by Daniel Beck, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, who sported a black tie adorned with anarchist symbols at the hearing. Roosevelt was represented by a Robert LeBlanc, a public defender. Gould-Wartofsky said that the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts was ready to help if the case progressed any further.
Gould-Wartofsky and Provost have served as members of the Crimson staff. Provost wrote her last news article in May 2004 and Gould-Wartofsky is a former editorial columnist.
—Staff writer Jamison A. Hill can be reached at email@example.com.
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