SPECIAL SERIES : Campus Controversy: Black Studies Professor Arrested
Akom Pleads Not Guilty to Reduced Misdemeanor Charges
November 2, 2005 12:49 PM
Africana Studies Professor Antwi Akom pled not guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from an Oct. 25 incident with campus police after a Superior Court judge threw out felony charges at an arraignment Nov. 1 at the San Francisco Hall of Justice.
Akom was arrested on campus as he went to retrieve a book from his office around 11 p.m. and was initially booked on felony charges of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. Akom told colleagues that he was the victim of racial profiling in the incident, and denied the charges against him.
Although Akom and his lawyers were pleased with the charges being reduced, they said that the battle to prove his innocence is just beginning.
“I am shocked, dismayed and traumatized by this entire experience,” Akom said. “But we’re confident that justice will prevail because I haven’t done anything wrong.
“The big issue here is that I was racially profiled, attacked, detained, accosted and criminalized outside my own office in my place of work.”
Akom's criminal defense attorney, Lidia Stiglich, said the case "never added up to a felony. It was overcharged out of the gate.”
The charges were lowered to misdemeanor battery against a police officer causing injury and resisting arrest. If convicted, Akom would face a maximum penalty of one year in county jail as opposed the maximum penalty for a felony of up to two years in state prison.
The San Francisco District Attorney's office did not return calls for comment. Officials at the SF State Department of Public Safety declined to comment and referred all calls to a university spokesperson.
Judge Donna Little, who presided over the arraignment, said that although she questioned Akom’s conduct during the altercation, she didn’t feel there was enough evidence to warrant the felony charges brought against him by the district attorney.
SF State officials declined to comment on the criminal case, but the school has appointed former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and former City Attorney Louise Renne to investigate the incident and Akom’s claims. Neither Brown nor Renne could be reached for comment.
President Robert Corrigan released a statement Oct. 28, calling for “a suspension of judgment until a full, clear picture emerges and rumors can be replaced by facts.”
“We are a campus community that identifies itself by a central commitment to social justice and equity,” Corrigan said. “Did we fully live up to those values on October 25?
“To answer that question, I believe our best course is a thorough external review of this matter. With the help of respected, impartial individuals who share our values, but who will approach their task independently and neutrally, we can gain a full picture of events and the context in which they occurred.”
According to colleagues that spoke to Akom about the incident, Akom said he was questioned by a security guard as he approached the building. He told the officer that he was a professor and that he was going to his office. While he was inside, the security guard had called a campus police officer who was waiting for Akom when he exited the building. Akom later said he was hurrying because his two young children were in his car.
When the officer told Akom to put his hands behind his back, Akom told colleagues, they started arguing and it quickly became physical. Two other officers were called to the scene and placed Akom under arrest. He has said that he was never asked for identification.
The Department of Public Safety police report, however, tells a different story. The security guard said that he asked Akom if he worked there and made repeated requests to see his identification. He said that Akom responded in an agitated manner. Unsure of what to do, the guard called his supervisor, who then called campus police. The first police officer on the scene sustained minor injuries during the scuffle.
“I think the judge showed that this felony charge was an extreme charge and it’s step one,” said Matthew Shenoda, an ethnic studies professor and Akom’s colleague. “I stand behind his innocence and that this was a case of racial profiling and I hope that will be proven in court.”
More than 30 students and faculty came to show their support at the 9:30 a.m. court hearing. They wore orange armbands on their forearms, and when it was Akom’s turn to approach the court, they all held one fist in the air to show solidarity. Matt Gonzalez, who may represent Akom in a civil case against the university, was also present.
“We have no comment on the court proceedings,” said Ellen Griffin, SF State’s director of public affairs. “The court process is separate from the process at the university.”
Akom missed at least two class meetings while he was in jail, but he was able to resume his teaching duties on Nov. 1.
"He is not perceived as a threat, not been convicted of anything, and this has nothing to do with his performance in the classroom,” Griffin said.
Don Menn, a journalism lecturer at SF State said that he goes into his office after hours all the time and he has never had a problem.
“I don't know how this case could have been anything other than racially motivated."
One of Akom's colleagues said Akom has experienced racial profiling in the past.
Jeannine Villasenor currently works with him at Berkeley High School's Academic Pathways Project, a program Akom co-created to tutor urban youth and help them make a successful transition to college.
She also worked with Akom at the Institute for the Study of Social Change from 1999 to 2004 where Akom was a research fellow. Villasenor said Akom is often the victim of racial profiling.
"Antwi understands that he is often a target of racial profiling and he is overly nice and overly understanding to people who discriminate against him," she said. "He is extremely calm, extremely patient and extremely understanding."
Villasenor said when she and Akom worked at UC Berkeley the police would often give him a hard time for walking on campus.
"When we worked together there this happened to him often. The police would flash their lights on him and ask him what he was doing here," she said. "He has a history of this happening to him for no reason besides him being a young, urban, black man."
[X]press Correspondent Jessica Jones contributed to this story.
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