Our Bill of Rights and the Curious Case of Dr. Jahi Issa

Guest Post by:
Doug Beatty

On March 1, 2012 Dr. Jahi Issa of Dover was arrested at Delaware State University for failing to be a white female on horseback.

That’s a provocative statement that demands support. In 2010 Delaware State University threatened to cut the equestrian team. The all white all female equestrian team protested by riding horses in front of the administration building and attending a public board meeting. There was no permit issued or sought for this protest. Campus public safety personnel didn’t approach or apprehend anyone.

March 1, 2012. Dr. Issa and his class meet during class time at the Martin Luther King Student Center to walk to the public board of directors meeting to voice their concerns. A guest speaker was on hand for any of Dr. Issa’s students who didn’t want to participate in the organizational activity.

Previously, Dr. Issa and his students had consulted with attorneys from the Delaware office of the ACLU in Wilmington to ensure that their actions were lawful and protected by the First Amendment.

However, the next day while Dr. Issa was addressing his students at the Martin Luther King Student Center, he was approached and apprehended by DSU public safety chief Downes. Initially the story was that Dr. Issa and his students had refused a lawful order to disperse. He was charged with inciting a riot, disorderly conduct, offensive touching, and resisting arrest.

By the time the case made it to a pretrial motion hearing, the official story had changed. There had been no order to disperse. The rioting charge was dropped. Now the narrative was that Dr. Issa had become disorderly when approached by public safety personnel who were trying to determine what the group was doing.

At the pretrial motion hearing on December 5, 2012, Chief Downes and Patrolman Buchwald both testified that they had no reason to put their hands on, detain, or arrest Dr. Issa prior to Chief Downes touching Dr. Issa. The story was that Chief Downes had only touched Dr. Issa in a ‘calming manner’ and Dr. Issa had responded by striking the chief in the chest with an elbow ( according to chief ) or a forearm ( according to Buchwald).

However, this video shot by a student was present at the motion hearing but was not allowed to testify tells a different story. Chief Downes in fact came up behind Dr. Issa and grabbed his wrist in a decidedly non-calming manner. Dr. Issa not knowing who was behind him pulled his arm forward away from the chief. The chief was never struck, he then put his right hand on Dr. Issa’s shoulder, Patrolman Buchwald grabbed Dr. Issa’s right shoulder and they walked him off. Dr. Issa never hit anyone.

Use this link to view the attack on Dr. Issa

Now the disorderly conduct charge has been thrown out. Having only heard state witnesses in the pre-trial motion hearing Judge Welch wants to proceed to trial, the state wants Dr. Issa to take a plea, and Dr. Issa wants his due process. Which is going to be very difficult to get.

Not only is the state trying to throw him in jail, his food stamps and medical assistance have been suspended. Just last week Family Services made an attempt to seize his children and have him arrested again on false charges. Being educated and having resources prevented this latest attempt.

Three witnesses were waiting for the case worker who was trying to destroy Dr. Issa’s family. A medical doctor destroyed the credibility of the school nurse who initiated the attack. The state didn’t get it’s way that afternoon, but the criminal case from DSU continues.

The state fired him from his job, making it nearly impossible for him to defend himself. Jack Markell sits on the board of directors at DSU. Beau Biden had to sign off on the charges against Dr. Issa and his Deputy A.G. Lindsay Taylor is doing her best to win this case.

Why do we care? If this can happen to a University professor who has an attorney then what chance does a marginalized citizen have in what passes for our justice system?

Dr. Issa and his students were exercising their God given rights when he was attacked and falsely charged by DSU campus police. When he fell to the ground he wasn’t resisting arrest, his blood pressure was so elevated that he had to be admitted to Kent General after EMS evaluated him. He doesn’t suffer from hypertension.

There is even a case involving a white female at DSU who did offensively touch police officers and she wasn’t even detained at the time, she was never suspended, and still works there. But Judge Welch refuses to throw the charges out for selective prosecution and disparate treatment. Judge Welch also presided over the case of the white female employee.

What all this means is that in our corrupt system here in Delaware nobody is safe. African Americans make up about 23% of Delaware’s population and about 70% of the prison population. However, these tactics can and are used against anyone that ‘gets out of line’. Dr. Issa had some serious concerns about management practices at DSU to include a recent audit. That’s apparently out of line.

But for the fact that he wasn’t a white female he might have been able to exercise his rights. Especially if he had been on horseback. The implications are chilling, questioning authority and exercising your constitutional rights can result in having your life and family destroyed by the state.

This fight isn’t about Dr. Issa, it’s about all of us. Anyone who believes that we have freedom of speech and that we can petition for redress of wrongs.

Dr. Issa has four children to support, and the state is trying to starve him out and eliminate his ability to defend himself. Despite being made indigent by the state, he can’t get public money for his defense unless his lawyer ( who hasn’t been paid in some time ) resigns. That would leave Dr. Issa at the mercy of whatever public defender he draws.

Right now Dr. Issa has to raise money to pay for court transcripts. This is beyond dire due to arguably illegal acts on the part of the State witnesses and possible reversible error on the part of the court. Please consider a donation to his legal defense fund at http://hbcuinstitute.org.