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UF suspends arrested pro-Palestinian protesters for up to 4 years

Police officer and trooper arrest a protestor
Vivienne Serret
Fresh Take Florida
An unidentified University of Florida police officer and Florida Highway Patrol trooper walk a handcuffed protester away from the site on the university's campus where law enforcement arrested nine pro-Palestinian protesters late Monday, April 29, 2024.

The students were among nine people who university police and state troopers arrested April 29 on a plaza on the University of Florida campus. They were among the first college arrests in Florida.

In closed-door hearings, the University of Florida set aside recommendations to lightly punish some of the college students arrested after pro-Palestinian protests on campus and suspended them for three to four years.

The decisions by the new dean of students, Chris Summerlin, overruled what were effectively sentencing recommendations by the juries, known as hearing bodies, who heard testimony and watched police video of the protests and arrests during the disciplinary cases.

The students were among nine people arrested by university police and state troopers April 29 during a demonstration on the Gainesville campus. They were among the first college arrests in Florida, and all remain banned from university property.

In at least two cases, the hearing bodies recommended probation for Keely Nicole Gliwa, 23, of Gainesville – a master’s student who expected to graduate May 2 – and a deferred suspension for Parker Stanley Hovis, 26, of Naples. The university withheld Gliwa’s diploma and suspended Gliwa and Hovis for three years.

In other cases, the hearing body recommended a one-year suspension for Tess Jaden Segal, 20, of Weston, and Allan Hektor Frasheri, 21, of Largo, but UF suspended Segal for three years and Frasheri for four years.

The university suspended Roseanna Yashoda Bisram, 20, of Ocala for three years, the same duration as the hearing body recommended. Augustino Matthias Pulliam, 20, a freshman theater major from Jacksonville, also was suspended three years.

Charly Keanu Pringle, 21, of Jacksonville, said she had been suspended for three years in a separate disciplinary process at nearby Santa Fe College, but that was not true. Pringle hadn’t been a student there since spring 2023, according to school records.

The seven students said they have submitted appeals to overturn their punishments, which they said were pending.

The suspensions mean that each would need to reapply for admission to UF. The only worse punishment would have been expulsion, which would have prevented them from returning.

Meanwhile, all nine people arrested said they have turned down deferred prosecution agreements offered t by the Alachua County State Attorney’s Office under plea bargains. Under such deals, a defendant would plead no contest or guilty, and the charges would effectively be dropped from their records if they committed no further crimes during a period of time, usually 12 months. None of the nine had any prior criminal convictions.

“We did not resist arrest, and we are prepared to fight our charges,” Hovis said in a statement. "We're standing in solidarity with each other, and collectively demanding that the state drop the charges against us.”

Their court cases were expected to unfold over the summer. The state attorney, Brian Kramer, is a Republican facing reelection in November.

Of the nine, Ember Boerboom, 24, of Chesapeake, Virginia, was a former UF student, and Jinx Rooney, 23 of Valrico, had no apparent affiliation with the university.

All faced misdemeanor criminal charges of resisting arrest without violence except Frasheri, who prosecutors charged with felony battery on a police officer. Hovis also faces another misdemeanor, a trespass count. Police said at the protest Hovis declined to say whether he would leave, so they arrested him.

“We did not resist arrest, and we are prepared to fight our charges. We're standing in solidarity with each other, and collectively demanding that the state drop the charges against us.”
Parker Stanley Hovis

Under university disciplinary rules, Summerlin was permitted to reject the recommendations of the hearing bodies, which are typically composed of faculty members. Summerlin, who started his job at UF in April, the same month as the arrests, declined Tuesday through a spokesperson to say why he handed out tougher-than-recommended sanctions in nearly every case.

The arrests followed a five-day occupation by demonstrators on UF's Plaza of the Americas by groups protesting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza following the Hamas attack at an October music festival in Israel.

Camping, putting up structures, disrupting academic activity or threatening others on campus is prohibited.

The outcomes of the disciplinary hearings – which happened during May and June – were described in a news release Tuesday distributed by the students. The privacy of the school’s disciplinary process is protected under federal law, and only the students involved can lawfully disclose what happened behind closed doors.

Two of the UF students, including Segal, are Jewish, they said.

“I stand in solidarity with Palestinians, not in spite of my Judaism, but because of it,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, newly released law enforcement video appears to capture the moment that one of them was accused of spitting on a police officer in the most serious case.

Prosecutors have accused Frasheri of spitting on the right arm of university police Officer Kristy Sasser as she was helping a state trooper walk away with another protester under arrest. Sasser, who also testified in at least one university disciplinary hearing, said in court papers that Frasheri “walked up to us and spit on me. His spittle landed on my right arm. I disengaged from the escort and arrested Frasheri for battery.”

In video of the arrests obtained from the highway patrol under Florida’s public records law, Frasheri is seen fidgeting with a water bottle with a medical-style mask down to his chin, joining the crowd in screaming “shame” at the officers arresting their peers.

As Sasser walked by, the top part of Frasheri’s body appeared to lunge sharply toward her as he held a water bottle. Sasser turned and appeared seconds later behind Frasheri to arrest him. Frasheri is expected at an upcoming court hearing July 24 for an update in his case.

UF President Ben Sasse, during a May press conference, praised police: “What you have done in the face of being spit on, being shouted at with profanities has been amazing,” Sasse said.

The university has declined so far to release other police video showing the arrests, despite a reporter’s request for copies April 30 under state law. The school also hasn’t turned over requested copies of communications among its general counsel, Sasse and police departments.

One of the prosecutors' expected witnesses is identified in court records as Aaron Michael Sarner, 24, of Hollywood, Florida, a UF law student listed as vice president of the group Students Supporting Israel. Sarner did not respond to phone calls or messages over several days asking about his role in the cases.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at vivienneserret@ufl.edu.

Copyright 2024 WGCU

Corrected: July 10, 2024 at 2:49 PM EDT
This story was updated to correct that Pringle was formerly a student at Santa Fe College and was not suspended, as she claimed.