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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

EWU student to continue facing obstruction charge stemming from November protest

Eastern Washington University students shout to protest religious activists who denounced abortion and preached messages intolerant of LGBTQ people on Nov. 7, 2019, on the Cheney campus. (Chad Sokol)

Prosecutors will continue pressing an obstruction charge against an Eastern Washington University student who was arrested during a protest on the Cheney campus in November.

In a written order issued Friday, Cheney Municipal Judge Robert Leland declined a motion to dismiss the charge against Maya Caruth, a member of EWU’s student government.

Caruth, 25, was arrested on Nov. 7 after crossing a so-called “safety zone” that separated hundreds of student protesters from three religious activists who had arrived on campus with signs and a portable speaker, preaching in derogatory terms about LGBT people.

Police separated the preachers from the other demonstrators as a crowd-control tactic aimed at preventing violence. But Caruth’s attorney, Steve Graham, has argued that Cheney Officer Zebulon Campbell had no right to arrest Caruth based on assumptions about her ideological views or the belief that she belonged on the student side of the 15-foot buffer zone.

“Officer Campbell didn’t have the right to limit Maya Caruth’s travel in this public space any more than the officer would have the right to limit a journalist in doing her job,” Graham wrote in his motion to dismiss the case. “Nor should the officer have assumed that Maya Caruth was affiliated with either side of this disturbance based on how she appeared. He had no legal authority to direct her to go stand among any group of perceived protesters.”

According to court records, Caruth and one of the preachers were trying to speak with each other when Caruth was arrested. In his report, the officer wrote that he had warned Caruth to move at least five times before arresting her, and afterward she continued to be uncooperative, slipping out of handcuffs in the back of his patrol car.

“It appears initially that the facts in this situation presented themselves at a rate in which law enforcement could and did strategize,” Judge Leland wrote in his order. “Law enforcement appeared prepared for such an event and moved deliberately and cautiously, and appropriately weighed issues as they presented until such time as the situation evolved. Ultimately, the situation and dynamics escalated to a point where law enforcement had to make decisions to protect the safety and interests of the public.”

Leland concluded that Caruth’s actions “created a significant safety concern” and that her arrest was justified.

One of the religious activists, Thomas R. Meyer, 66, of Rathdrum, was detained on suspicion of spanking and spitting on students, but prosecutors have not filed charges against him. Meyer demonstrated on campus with Daniel Rusk, who runs the website, and Bruce Wakeman, who leads a group called the Lilac City Bible Fellowship and sometimes preaches on street corners in downtown Spokane.

Graham said Monday he will continue pushing for a subpoena to obtain video of Caruth’s encounter with Rusk, who wore a body camera during the protest. In court records, Graham said he learned through a private investigator that the preachers also hid cameras in trees on the campus mall.