CU-Boulder refutes attorney's claim that its 4/20 tactics were "fascist"

Gabriel Kuettel.jpg
Big photos below.
Update: When speaking about the decision of three CU-Boulder students arrested for trespassing on the closed Norlin Quad amid the university's effort to shrink the annual 4/20 event to fight the charge on First Amendment grounds, attorney Sean McAllister described the school's tactics as "fascist" in an interview shared in coverage below. The description nettles CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard, who sees this comment as inaccurate hyperbole.

On 4/20, CU closed its Boulder campus to visitors and taped off (and spread with rank-smelling fish fertilizer) Norlin Quad, the area where the event has taken place during the period when the annual smoke-out went from a small gathering to a 10,000-attendees-plus statement of purpose/cannabis bacchanal. Students Gabriel Kuettel, Jonathan Edwards and John Demopoulos decided to protest against these actions by venturing onto the forbidden Quad, earning trespassing tickets as a result.

bronson hilliard.jpg
Bronson Hilliard.
In discussing these citations, McAllister, who's representing the students pro bono, told us, "The university tolerates speech with regard to anti-abortion protesters and anti-war protesters. But the university shouldn't get to decide which speech it likes, or else we live in a fascist state."

How does Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly) respond to this characterization?

"We have abundant free speech on this campus every day of the year," notes Hilliard, a CU graduate and history buff. "We have debate, discussion and dissent virtually everywhere. There are rallies at the Dalton Trumbo fountain" -- a gathering place near the school's University Memorial Center named for a blacklisted member of the so-called Hollywood Ten -- "all the time, and there are eleven different points on campus designated as canvassing zones" for individuals hoping to gather support for their organizations or points of view. "So the idea that anybody would think of CU-Boulder and somehow think we have some sterile, frightening environment for free speech is comical."

The area's off-limits status on 4/20 shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone, Hilliard goes on. "We communicated very clearly to students, faculty and visitors what would go on with Norlin Quad that day using multiple venues, and protesters gathered around the perimeter of the Quad, making their unhappiness with the policy clear throughout the day."

McAllister suggested in his comments that the university could prevent a likely loss in court by raising the white flag now. But Hilliard says, "At this point, we don't think it's about us dropping the matter. It's been referred to the Boulder District Attorney's office, and generally we don't comment on a case when it's been forward to the DA or the police for carrying out."

He's not nearly as reticent when it comes to McAllister's pejorative. In his words, "The thought that we were a fascist state on that day or on any other day is laughable on its face."

Look below to see our earlier coverage.

Update, 9:13 a.m. May 25: In a May 1 post seen below in its entirety, attorney Sean McAllister told us that three CU-Boulder students busted for trespassing on the closed Norlin Quad during the university's unprecedented attempt to shrink the annual 4/20 event would fight their citations on First Amendment grounds. Yesterday, they took the first step by pleading not guilty to the charges against them, beginning a challenge McAllister says has important implications.

"The university tolerates speech with regard to anti-abortion protesters and anti-war protesters," notes McAllister, who's representing students Gabriel Kuettel, Jonathan Edwards and John Demopoulos pro bono. "But the university shouldn't get to decide which speech it likes, or else we live in a fascist state."

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Sean McAllister.
Kuettel, Edwards and Demopoulos didn't know each other before their arrests. And McAllister says their decision to venture onto the Quad, which had been taped off and covered with fish fertilizer in an effort to prevent students from congregating on what has become the traditional site of the 4/20 event, was intended to protest CU's decision to not only close the campus to non-students, but also to prevent tuition payers from venturing onto that particular spot.

Location is important, McAllister believes. "The university is saying where speech can occur and where it can't -- and that's illegal. And they're spending tons of money to suppress First Amendment speech rather than tolerate it."

McAllister predicts that the final tally for CU's 4/20 expenses will be in the range of $300,000 -- a total that, in his view, should include the $150,000 of student money spent on a Wyclef Jean concert that attracted an exceedingly sparse crowd to the Coors Events Center. We should know how accurate his soothsaying is soon; CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard says the numbers are in and should be released later this morning. But whatever the total, McAllister contends that "they're wasting more money prosecuting my clients -- and that's a waste of resources especially in a year when marijuana is on the ballot" by way of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.

Photo by Nick Callaio
The "crowd" at the 4/20 Wyclef Jean concert.
"The solution is worse than the problem," he argues. "If they just ticketed people for smoking pot, it would have been a $100 fine. But being ticketed for trespassing can bring up to six months in jail, and all just to keep people away from the Quad. And how can they close the university to its own students? They can't close the campus to students in this way....

"This is about more than marijuana," he goes on. "It's about the greater principle of whether the university gets to pick and choose what speech is discussed in the public square. My clients paid money to go the university, and they certainly had a right to be on campus and express their views.

"This is another example of the drug war. The establishment doesn't want to have an honest and open dialogue about this issue -- and CU's actions mirror problems of society. They're more interested in protecting their image than in reality, which is that one day soon, marijuana will be legal in Colorado. But instead, they're suppressing First Amendment rights because they're so uptight about their image. They're not willing to admit that this is an issue that needs to be acknowledged -- so we'll make them acknowledge it."

Right now, there's a motions hearing in the case of the three students slated for July 18, with trial set "on August 9, I believe," says McAllister. "And in the next two or three weeks, we're going to file a First Amendment motion to dismiss. It's like if you were charged for harassment for saying someone is a bad doctor. If they charge you with harassment, you can get a charge dismissed on First Amendment grounds. So we're going to ask a judge to do that."

At this point, McAllister goes on, "we're somewhat optimistic that the university will do the right thing or a judge will do the right thing and dismiss the case before trial. And we think it will be unlikely for a Boulder jury to convict people in this case. The jury will see my clients upholding the Constitution and the law by expressing their First Amendment rights, and see the university suppressing those rights. And we hope a jury will acquit them based on those factors."

Here are the booking photos of Kuettel, Edwards and Demopoulos, followed by our previous coverage.

Gabriel Kuettel mug shot.jpg
Gabriel Kuettel.

John Demoupoulus mug shot.jpg
John Demopoulos.

jonathan edwards mug shot.jpg
Jonathan Edwards.
Page down to see our earlier coverage, including a video and 4/20 photos.

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