Two City College of New York students have been criminally charged for their role in the protests against the closure of the Morales-Shakur Center, the school’s hub of campus political activity. Tafadar Sourov, 19, and Khalil Vasquez, 22, have been suspended from CCNY since October 28, barred from campus, and prevented from registering for spring classes; late last week, they learned that they would also be facing charges in Manhattan criminal court.
The men surrendered themselves yesterday and spent last night in jail. This morning, they were arraigned and charged with two counts of criminal mischief in the fourth degree, one count of obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, one count of rioting, one count of inciting to riot, and harassment in the second degree, all misdemeanors. Sourov is also being charged with attempted assault in the third degree, another misdemeanor, for allegedly shoving a CCNY police officer to the ground. Both men face up to a year in prison.
See also: Two Arrested During Protest Over Closure of CCNY’s Morales-Shakur Center
The criminal complaint is dated October 24; that was the date of the second protest, when a group of CCNY students clashed with campus police after trying to force their way inside the North Academic Center (NAC), where the Morales-Shakur Center used to be. One man, CCNY alumnus and activist David Suker, was pepper-sprayed and arrested during that protest, while another student was detained and cited for disorderly conduct.
In the complaint, Corporal Jacqueline Meekins of the CCNY police says that she and other officers were trying to hold the doors of the NAC shut as at least 100 students tried to get inside. Meekins says that Vasquez and Sourov pulled the doors open and urged the other students to go inside.
“I observed that as a result of the defendant’s conduct the top hinges to the door broke and the door bent,” she adds. “I am a custodian of the door and the defendant did not have permission or authority to damage the door.” The damage to the door is estimated at $250. (Another CCNY alumnus not affiliated with the protest emailed us that day to dispute that the door had been damaged.)
Meekins also says that Sourov “place[d] his hands on my shoulders and forcefully push[ed] me to the floor causing substantial pain to my shoulder and knee.” She says the two men and the rest of the crowd then managed to run into the building “while pushing uniformed members of the CUNY [sic] Police Department in order to get by.”
The district attorney’s office hasn’t yet recommended a possible sentence for the two men; Assistant District Attorney Ryan Hayward said today in court that the investigation was still ongoing. Elsewhere in the CUNY system, six other students are also still facing charges for protesting former CIA director David Petraeus’ teaching appointment at Macaulay Honors College; all eight of the defendants have their next court date on January 9.
After they were charged, both men were released on their own recognizance. As they stepped into the crowded hallway outside the courtroom, a crowd of at least 60 supporters broke into cheers and applause. Sourov wore a purple CCNY sweatshirt and a neon-striped t-shirt, while Vasquez had on a tan jacket; both looked exhausted and a little dazed by all the attention.
The two men and their attorneys, Ron McGuire and Mark Yu, held a brief press conference outside the courthouse, as crowds of baffled court-goers craned their necks to try to figure out what was going on.
“We were held as political prisoners because we tried to liberate CUNY for the people,” Sourov told the crowd. The entire CUNY system, he added, “was made for working-class and immigrant people in this city. We’re going to have to continue this struggle.”
Vasquez added that there are “two paths for CUNY — the path of privatization and militarization… or the path that we wish to pursue, to get ride of the board of trustees and have the students, faculty, and the community run CUNY.”
On Friday morning, Vasquez and Sourov will also face on an on-campus disciplinary hearing. McGuire, their attorney, said they may not be able to testify in their own defense because of the criminal charges now lodged against them. Attorney Yu called it “unprecedented” that the criminal charges were proceeding before the campus investigation has been completed.
Vasquez and Sourov also urged their supporters to attend a planned CUNY board meeting at Baruch College on November 25; the board of trustees is expected to vote in a new “Policy on Expressive Conduct,” which the student protesters say would make on-campus political activity much more difficult.
Deidra Hill, a spokesperson for CCNY, told us that the school would not comment on the charges, writing, “We do not comment on these matters as they are outside of City College.”
The full criminal complaint against the two men is on the following page. We’ve also included a draft of the new “expressive conduct” policy, dated October 11 and released by the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents CUNY faculty and staff.
– See also: CUNY City College Students Protest After Morales-Shakur Center, Hub of Campus Political Activity, Is Abruptly Closed
– Two CCNY Students Suspended as Third Protest Over Closure of Morales-Shakur Center Begins
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.