When sophomore Andy Milne showed up at Gov. Sarah Palins campaign stop in Latham Park on Oct. 16 with Obama flyers in hand, he had no idea that later that day he would wind up in jail or eventually be charged with disorderly conduct by both Elon University and Alamance County.
Milne was arrested for disturbing the peace at the rally and later taken and released from Grahams Alamance County Jail on a $500 bail.But what came as most surprising to him were the repercussions the school took on him.
His parents were notified by the administration after the occurance and asked to have their son contact them, since it was fall break. After that Milne received a notice of judicial action for disorderly conduct through e-mail.
Milne said he gained entrance to the rally while wearing a McCain button and holding a sign on top of his poster that said The Bush Tax cut saved the economy four more years.
I went in knowing I was not allowed to bring in the signs, but also knowing they were not following the rules across the board, he said. It was specifically designed to make it so only Republicans messages could be displayed.
Milne said he began to distribute the signs to other Obama fans inside before Republican supporters working the event began to try to forcefully take his signs.
After the crowd started to chant USA at him, he began to chant it back, along with other phrases like No blood for oil and Obama.
After College Republicans President Nick Ochsner called the police, Milne was arrested for disturbing the peace.
As they normally do with any Elon student, the police brought Milnes case to the schools attention, Coordinator for Judicial Affairs Whitney Pack Gregory said.
Gregory said once a report is in the schools hands, they have to determine if there has been any potential Honor Code violations as defined by Elons Student Handbook. With each case that is turned over, judicial affairs then has to decide if they can deem a possible occurrence of a violation.
If so, the student is contacted to discuss the incident and possible violation and judicial charge, Gregory said.
During this meeting, we ensure the student understands the judicial charge as defined by Elon University and not necessarily by the legal or civil system, she said.
Milne met with Jodean Schmiederer, assistant dean of students, about two weeks ago regarding his arrest. Schmierderer told him she had already viewed a video of the event as it unfolded and Milne did not bring any witnesses.
The Elon Student Handbook defines Disorderly Conduct as conduct which is offensive or annoying to others or is disruptive of the rights of others.
Milne was told he was still held responsible.
I think that is so broad that you can basically charge anyone that is annoying at anytime, he said. By those same standards its not fair because saying A vote for Obama is a vote for killing babies is offensive for anybody voting for Obama.
He said the administration also brought up the fact that he could have incited others to violence, but he found that frustrating as he viewed his actions as peaceful.
This is Milnes first offense and he is not facing suspension, fines or restitution hours. But the occurence will stay on his Elon record, which is one reason he appealed his case.
While he is waiting to hear back about his appeal, he also filed an incident report against Ochsner through Elon to share his account of the event, since he said the video did not show him being peaceful before being approahced by Ochsner.
His actions were clearly out of line, Milnesaid. I think that it is ridiculous that they have filed charges against me and not against the kid that was literally grabbing onto me and calling the police and ripping the sign out of my hands.
Ochsner said Milne acted inappropriately after Ochsner approached him about the Obama signs in his possession. He said the following conversation was disorderly and considers it the reason for Milne's arrest.
He can say he just went through a rally with an arm full of Obama signs, but that does not make him an innocent bystander, Ochsner said.
Milne said he was upset the campaign was not following the rules of no handmade signs permitted into the arena. After seeing multiple messages on signs that were pro-Republican, Milne felt it was his First Amendment right to show his support for Obama.
While no one was permitted to bring signs in, Ochsner said it is not an uncommon practice for the campaign to distribute handmade signs to audience members.
Unfortunately, people like Andy have a clear misunderstanding of the First Amendment, he said. While people do have their rights to express themselves, they have to do so properly.
Ochsner said Elon has a set code of conduct and Milne clearly didnt obey the law in this situation.
Every other student is subjected to that honor code and so should he, he said. I should be held to that standard and had I been arrested I hope the university would hold me to those charges too. Hes the one that was arrested and thats why hes facing the repercussions.
Milne, whose parents offered to pay for a lawyer, said he doesnt feel comfortable having them pay for something he directly did. He plans to have a lawyer present on his court date and has been in contact with the district attorneys office as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.
He said he will plead not guilty to disorderly conduct at his Alamance County court hearing on Nov. 19 because he doesnt think he is guilty.
But until then, he is still fighting for his freedom of speech and his political beliefs.
As he was being ejected from the rally, Palin stopped speaking and requested the police officers leave Milne inside so he could learn something.
In most cases I would be honored if a vice presidental candidate were talking about me, Milne said. I wish I had had the chance to go back there and learn something from the crowd and had the chance to talk to her. I think I could have taught her something too.