ELYRIA — Three Oberlin College students whose arrests touched off protests at Gibson’s Bakery last year have been indicted on robbery charges.
Jonathan Aladin, 19, of Trenton, N.J., Endia Lawrence, 19, of Oberlin, and Cecelia Whettstone, 19, of Oberlin, turned themselves in at Lorain County Jail on Friday morning and were released on bond.
In addition to the robbery charge he faces, Aladin also is charged with forgery for a fake ID he had, Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said.
Will largely declined to discuss the allegations against the three students, which were presented during a grand jury session Wednesday following an investigation by his office and Oberlin police.
He said the robbery charges would have been leveled against Lawrence and Whettstone only if the grand jury determined that they had “acted in concert or been part of a common scheme or plan.”
An Oberlin police report on the incident said Allyn Gibson, whose family owns the store, refused to sell Aladin a bottle of wine Nov. 9 before confronting him about two bottles of wine Aladin allegedly was concealing under his shirt.
Gibson told Aladin not to leave because he was calling police, the report said. When Aladin did try to leave, Gibson reportedly took out his phone to take a picture of the student.
The report said Aladin slapped Gibson’s phone out of his hand, which caused it to hit him in the face. Aladin then ran from the store, breaking two bottles of wine on his way out.
Gibson chased him outside and across the street, where police reported there was a physical confrontation. Officers reported that when they arrived Gibson was on the ground with Aladin, Lawrence and Whettstone hitting him.
Aladin initially was charged with robbery, but the charge was dropped after Oberlin Municipal Court Judge Thomas Januzzi rejected a plea deal in the case. The matter was then forwarded to Will’s office for further review.
Whettstone and Lawrence were facing misdemeanor assault charges and had been slated to go on trial this month, but their case was delayed at the municipal level after their defense attorney, Jack Bradley, told Januzzi he learned that his clients might face felony charges.
Bradley said Friday he expects the misdemeanor charges against his clients will be dropped now that they are under felony indictment.
Bradley said the robbery charges against Lawrence and Whettstone appear to be based on the theory that they were complicit in the robbery because prosecutors have evidence they were in Gibson’s before the robbery. He said prosecutors suspect the pair knew what Aladin allegedly had planned.
However, he said neither was inside the store when Aladin tried to buy the wine and initially clashed with Gibson.
“I am certain they were not inside Gibson’s when the alleged theft took place,” Bradley said.
He said he was disappointed by the felony charges against his clients and Aladin because of the potential long-term effect the charges could have on their lives.
“It’s too bad, these are young college kids,” Bradley said. “Even if something did happen, you don’t want to ruin somebody’s entire life.”
Robert Beck Jr., Aladin’s attorney, declined to comment Friday, as did representatives from Gibson’s and Oberlin College.
The arrests of the three students sparked days of protests and counterprotests outside the store, with critics suggesting Gibson’s engaged in racial profiling and discrimination. Allyn Gibson is white, while Aladin, Lawrence and Whettstone are black.
The three are scheduled to be arraigned next week.
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