Protesting professor faces charges

Adjunct Professor of Earth Science Cindy Gorn faces charges for allegedly obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest during a protest in December. Although hearings in the case have occurred, the College claims no knowledge of the charges. Photo By: Jacqueline Goossens
Adjunct Professor of Earth Science Cindy Gorn faces charges for allegedly obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest during a protest in December. Although hearings in the case have occurred, the College claims no knowledge of the charges. Photo By: Jacqueline Goossens
Adjunct Professor of Earth Science Cindy Gorn faces charges for allegedly obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest during a protest in December. Although hearings in the case have occurred, the College claims no knowledge of the charges. Photo By: Jacqueline Goossens

Adjunct professor of Earth Science and Geography Cindy Gorn currently faces two misdemeanor charges in New York Criminal Court stemming from alleged actions at a Dec. 13 protest on the Brooklyn Bridge. Teaching two courses in her department while released on bail, Gorn has been to court once so far this semester and will return to court in early April as the case against her proceeds. If convicted, Gorn faces a maximum of one year in jail for each of her Class A misdemeanor charges.

According to multiple sources within the Administration, the College’s leadership has so far been unaware of the charges against the professor. As Dean of the Faculty Jonathan Chenette expressed, professors are permitted to continue teaching while facing such charges as long as the case does not impinge upon their professorial duties or negatively affect their ability to fulfill them.

The charges against Gorn have been linked to her alleged participation in a series of events that include assaults on two New York City police lieutenants during the Millions March NYC protest.

The protest, which was attended by 30,000 people, was organized around the issue of police brutality towards Black and Brown people, specifically the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The event’s website wrote, “Every 28 hours a black person in the United States is killed by someone employed or protected by the government of the United States. Other communities are also criminalized, targeted, attacked and brutalized. We want an immediate end to state sanctioned violence against our communities.”

According to police and media reports, Gorn and a group of five other academics who were participating in the protest interfered with attempts by Lieutenants Phillip Chan and Patrick Sullivan to arrest Baruch College adjunct professor Eric Linsker.

Accounts of what prompted this arrest differ. As the Daily News states, “[Linkser] attempted to throw a garbage can over the bridge railing.” (The New York Daily News, “Woman surrenders in assault of two cops during Brooklyn Bridge protest,” 12.21.14)

The New York Post, however, wrote of a different sequence of events, writing that as protesters marched across the bridge, Linsker attacked the police officers. They wrote, “[Linkser] had thrown a garbage can at two lieutenants during the mayhem.” (The New York Post, “Fourth Suspect Surrenders in Cop-Bashing,” 12.20.14)

Although the circumstances surrounding the assault on these officers feature some degree of conflicting reports, all of them confirm that both officers received lacerations and bruising from the incident, and Lieutenant Chan suffered a broken nose.

When asked about the particulars of the incident on the bridge and the allegations against her, Gorn declined to comment.

In the days following the alleged incidents on the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York City Police Department offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to Gorn’s, there identified as “Female Suspect #2,” arrest and subsequent conviction.

The reward bulletin, which featured a photograph of the six suspects taken from a video of the alleged incident, reads, “The suspects shown below are being sought by the NYPD for questioning regarding the events that led to the Assaults of two NYPD Lieutenants on the Brooklyn Bridge during a protest on Saturday, December 13, 2014.”

According to reports by the Daily News, on Dec. 20, Gorn voluntarily surrendered at the Manhattan 5th Precinct station house with her attorney and was quickly arraigned on one count of resisting arrest and on one count of obstructing governmental administration. The New York Post has claimed that Gorn was the second of the six suspects that opted to turn themselves in.

In accordance with the procedure of an arraignment, Gorn was informed of the charges against her, and the court released her on bail. Information from the New York Unified Court System states that Gorn was released on promises to appear on $1,500 bond or $1,000 cash. This bail amount was continued again when Gorn appeared in court on Feb. 17.

Although the police lieutenants have asserted that they were assaulted as they moved to arrest Linsker, Gorn has not been charged with assault. Rather, Gorn faces charges related to her alleged participation in preventing Linsker’s arrest and then resisting her own arrest.

The New York State penal code states, “A person is guilty of obstructing governmental administration when he intentionally obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental functions or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from performing an official function.”

Meanwhile, the penal code notes that, “A person is guilty of resisting arrest when he intentionally prevents or attempts to prevent a police officer or peace officer from effecting an authorized arrest of himself or another person.” According to an emailed statement by a former New York City district attorney who is unaffiliated with Gorn’s case, “During my time…the resisting arrest count was usually added at the request of the arresting officer when the defendant had been ‘nicked up a little’ (by the arresting officer) during the apprehension.”

Both of these counts are Class A misdemeanors, meaning that conviction may potentially result in a period of imprisonment.

The penal code explains, “[Conviction could result in] a sentence to a term of imprisonment in excess of fifteen days may be imposed, but for which a sentence to a term of imprisonment in excess of one year cannot be imposed.”

The variance in potential sentencing, the legal professional noted, can be partially accounted for when factoring in the arrest record of the defendant. According to reports, Gorn has no prior arrests.

Although arrested and arraigned prior to being hired by Vassar, thus allowing for her current affiliation with the College to remain unreported by all news outlets, this case has continued to transpire as Gorn continues to work as an adjunct professor this semester within the Earth Science and Geography Department here at Vassar.

On Feb. 17, the case against Gorn continued in the New York Criminal Court and a future court date has been scheduled within Vassar’s academic year.

According to multiple sources within the administration, Gorn’s arrest and case have not been reported to the office of the Dean of the Faculty. While Gorn stated that she had informed her department and department chair of the impending case, the Chair of the Earth Science and Geography Department Joseph Nevins would neither confirm nor deny that he was aware of such charges against any members of his department.

In an emailed statement, Dean Chenette explained, “According to the Faculty Handbook, anticipated faculty absences from a scheduled class must be approved by the department chair. Absences of more than two days require my approval. Otherwise I would see no need for a faculty member in the situation you describe, or the department chair, to notify me.”

Although the Administration claims that it is  not currently aware of the charges Gorn faces, the College’s policy on permitting faculty members facing criminal charges to continue teaching remains education-focused.

In a written statement from Chenette given to The Miscellany News by Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs Jeff Kosmacher, “Vassar supports the right of individuals to free speech, including peaceful protest. If the college were to learn that a faculty member is under criminal investigation, we would weigh the circumstances to determine whether the alleged activity or its investigation interferes with the faculty member’s fitness to teach.”

Chenette also noted in his emailed statement, “If the professor is able to make it for classes and teaching-related duties, the situation you describe would not impinge on the individual’s fitness to teach.”

Gorn’s statements also reveal her belief that her current legal situation falls into the parameters laid out by Chenette.

She explained in an emailed statement, “[T]his [case] has had no impact on anything…My department knows, but since it has no bearing on my teaching there is no reason for them to have a perspective.”

Several of Gorn’s students stated that they had not noticed the case impacting their professor’s teaching ability or general availability to students, even after learning about the case from Gorn herself.

A student in one of Gorn’s classes wrote in an emailed statement, “I don’t think it’s impacting her ability to teach, mostly because of the situation revolving her arrest. Most of the geography classes I’ve taken at Vassar encourage students to think critically about capitalism, racism, government and authority. We’re encouraged to think critically about the world and be part of a process that makes it better.”

The student continued, “She got arrested during an Eric Garner protest because she stands by her beliefs. I think she’s setting an example for students. Obviously she’s not telling us to get arrested too, but the grounds of her arrest are admirable if you ask me.”

Gorn will continue to teach her courses as scheduled as her case proceeds into the rest of the semester. On Apr. 7, another hearing in Gorn’s case is scheduled to take place in New York City.

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