Supporters of Palestinian students dissatisfied with administrative finding

by Amy Kingsley

Members of a Guilford College judicial board exonerated one Palestinian student and found another guilty of aggressive behavior on Feb. 28, according to supporters of the two undergraduates who were involved in a fight in January.

The outcome of the school’s hearing for three football players accused of using ethnic slurs and beating Osama Sabbah, Faris Khader and a friend from NC State University, Omar Awartani, with brass knuckles is unknown. Sabbah was cleared of all charges, his supporters said, and Khader held partially responsible for the violence. College administrators, citing federal privacy laws, refused to comment beyond releasing a description of the school’s judicial process.

Khader was defending himself when he struck one of his attackers with a belt, said Bryan Dellinger, a Guilford College student who has lobbied the Greensboro Police Department to reopen the case. The assertion was corroborated by several eyewitnesses. Parents of football players Michael Bates, Michael Six and Blair Underwood have said the Palestinians started the fight.

“We’ve heard that no one’s been expelled or suspended,” Dellinger said. “We’ll know more after spring break, when we see if everyone returns.”

The incident traumatized the campus community. Guilford College – which is affiliated with the pacifist Religious Society of Friends – is renowned for its progressive students and faculty. Nonetheless, a group of minority students accused college administrators after the incident of failing to protect them from underlying racism.

Dellinger said faculty involved in the judicial proceedings did not welcome his attempts to offer them notarized eyewitness statements. Investigators did not interview several of the students who saw what happened outside Bryan Residence Hall, he said.

“If they had done any kind of investigation,” Dellinger said, “Faris would not be where he is right now.”

Aaron Fetrow, dean of campus life, said he refused to accept the statements because they were presented after the judicial process started. Policy dictates that additional information is sent to students’ advocates, he said. Dellinger said the advocates did accept the witness statements and another source confirmed that they were considered during the proceedings.

Dellinger also presented the statements to prosecutor Howard Neumann, Lt. Brian James of the Greensboro Police Department and FBI Special Agent Tom Brereton. Criminal charges, including assault and ethnic intimidation, are still pending against six members of the Guilford College football team, Neumann said. The assistant district attorney said he would wait until after Guilford College finished its judicial process before he acted on the criminal charges.

Now that the college has finished its process, Neumann said he would sit down with all of the students who were involved, and their lawyers, to determine how to proceed.

“We need to sit down with the attorneys and all the young men to see if anybody’s still interested in pressing criminal charges,” he said.

Neumann said he’s heard that the students offered to drop charges in exchange for an apology, and that they were interested in dropping charges altogether against Jazz Favors and Micah Rushing, but he said no one has dropped any charges yet.

“I don’t want to handle this thing piecemeal,” he said.

Neumann said the statements are not legally admissible, but that they do give him a good idea how a witness would testify. The prosecutor said he hopes to make a decision about the criminal charges within the next 30 days.

Members of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Project and the public met March 1, following the college’s decision, to discuss how to move forward. Dellinger said Khader was unhappy with the board’s decision and planned to appeal.

Lewis Pitts, a Legal Aid attorney active with the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Project, said the verdict, as he understood it, did not do Khader justice.

“They were victims,” Pitts said, “and this process has landed on Faris.”

Pitts and others are working on developing a community response to the verdict. The March 1 meeting was closed to the press, but Dellinger said future meetings would include reporters.

The groups must also work out how much Khader and Sabbah can say. Dellinger said the school told the students not to discuss the judicial process or their sanctions.

Guilford College spokesman Nic Brown said the school does not bar students from discussing their cases, but said administrators, staff and faculty cannot respond to statements.

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