Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

campus administration

Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office drops charges against IU alumnus arrested during April 8 protest

catomsweeneyarrest052124.jpg

Monroe County prosecutors dismissed a disorderly conduct charge May 14 against IU alumnus Tom Sweeney, who was detained by IU Police Department while speaking at a pro-Palestinian demonstration, taken away in a golf cart and arrested on April 8.  

In an email to the Indiana Daily Student, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Kehr said video footage from the event led prosecutors to determine they could not prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt, so they moved to dismiss the case.  

“I think he and I would agree that I committed no crime,” Sweeney said. 

The motion was granted and the charges are pending expungement from Sweeney’s record, according to the official case summary obtained by the IDS. 

Even so, Sweeney said, the month between his arrest and the charge’s drop was nerve-wracking. He said he was being pressured to accept a pre-trial diversion deal, in which prosecutors would agree to drop the charges if he agreed to complete community service hours and pay a large fee.  

“That's great, if you're guilty. That's not great if you committed no crime,” Sweeney said. “I was very, very anxious about how that would play out and how it would affect my job and my summer.” 

The April 8 demonstration began about 20 minutes before totality in Cox Arboretum and included members of IU Alumni for Palestine, the IU Palestine Solidarity Committee and high school students from Indianapolis, who had gathered to demand IU divest from Israel and protest the passing of Senate Bill 202, which increases state legislative oversight on public universities in Indiana. 

After the eclipse on April 8, IUPD officers at the scene told demonstrators to move to Dunn Meadow, which, unlike the arboretum, has been designated an “Assembly Ground” since 1969 and been the site of protests and other demonstrations for decades. 

Sweeney said he had been speaking through the megaphone for less than two minutes at Dunn Meadow when a group of police officers overseen by IUPD Interim Chief of Police Margo Bennett came up behind him and told him he was under arrest.  

Elizabeth Valencia, IU Indianapolis alumna and IU for Palestine organizer, was present at the demonstration. She said Sweeney checked with present officials to make sure the demonstration had moved to the correct area before he began to use the megaphone, but that as he was about to hand the megaphone over to other demonstrators to make speeches, police were already starting to approach. 

In Indiana, misdemeanor disorderly conduct is defined as “recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally” engaging in “fighting or tumultuous conduct,” making “unreasonable noise” and continuing to do so after being asked to stop or disrupting a lawful assembly. Sweeney said he was charged under the third subsection, not for “unreasonable noise.” 

“It still remains unclear what the lawful assembly I was accused of disrupting was,” Sweeney said. “In fact, our lawful assembly was quite disturbingly disrupted by IUPD. And I knew that the charges just could not hold because I committed no crime.”  

Shems Alubaidi, an IU alum, longtime Bloomington resident and IU for Palestine organizer who also witnessed the arrest, said she felt Sweeney was arbitrarily targeted because he was one of the loudest voices at Dunn Meadow. She said demonstrators had been cooperative with instructions to move to Dunn Meadow and intentionally did not obstruct the university tabling initiatives and performances that were happening there as part of eclipse celebrations. 

“I think it was essentially trying to send a message to students — if you are going to threaten power, this is the result,” Alubaidi said. “So I think now they’re realizing it doesn't have any First Amendment backing, and that what they did goes against freedom of speech and what Dunn Meadow has long stood for.”  

Sweeney said some police officers on the scene did not seem to know why he was being arrested. Zakariya Abdulbari, a junior at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis who was at the April 8 demonstration, agreed. 

“I believe that this was purely just a petty institution response. And it was unjust, they knew it was unjust,” Abdulbari said. 

In an email, IUPD Public Information Officer Hannah Skibba reiterated a statement made on the day of the arrest. The statement says university officials asked protesters to stop being disruptive three times in the arboretum and Dunn Meadow, asked them to move to a space that was not already reserved and told them failure to comply would result in police intervention.  

The statement also claims Sweeney was disrupting a concert in Dunn Meadow and was asked three times to stop using the megaphone.   

According to IDS reporting April 8, Vicka Bell-Robinson, associate vice provost for involvement and belonging, told the protesters to stop using amplified sound multiple times while in the arboretum. When Sweeney resumed use of the megaphone in Dunn Meadow, IUPD officers grabbed him, took him up the hill to Seventh Street and took him away in a golf cart. 

Additionally, Skibba said in the email three demonstrators were detained, identified and released in the arboretum prior to Sweeney’s arrest. They told the IDS on April 8 officers told them prosecutors may be reaching out soon. Sweeney said this was in a different part of the arboretum from where he had been.  

To Sweeney, his arrest is indicative of a broader issue. In a guest column published by the IDS on April 21, he criticized the decision to instate Bennett, who previously oversaw the arrest of student protesters at the University of California at Berkeley, as IUPD interim chief of police. He also expressed concern over a pattern in which IUPD arrests and removes protesters who are never convicted. 

Alubaidi, who graduated from IU in 2022, said her own efforts and the efforts of the Palestine Solidarity Committee to organize pro-Palestinian events on campus were met with backlash from the university when she was still a student.  

“I think that my arrest, which created an uproar and an outcry amongst faculty, and a lot of that uproar and outcry happened right before the no confidence vote,” Sweeney said. “It brought awareness to the faculty that there was something suspicious going on with IU handling of protesters.” 

On April 16, IU Bloomington faculty overwhelmingly passed votes of no confidence for IU President Pamela Whitten, Provost Rahul Shrivastav and Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Carrie Docherty. 

Since Sweeney’s arrest, 57 people have been arrested at a pro-Palestinian encampment in Dunn Meadow, which has been active since April 25. These protesters were arrested, however, for trespassing, after an “ad hoc committee” approved a change to IU policy to forbid the use of unauthorized structures in Dunn Meadow on the eve of the encampment protests, a move which has been widely criticized. Others were arrested for resisting arrest and battery, as well, and all arrested received at least a one-year ban from campus.  

Sweeney said he believes their cases will not necessarily be dropped like his. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the IU Board of Trustees and Whitten on May 3 to challenge campus bans for three demonstrators who were arrested. Sweeney and Valencia said it will be important to support these people 

“We want to encourage the community to also be that protection for the students and the faculty and the staff for showing up and putting everything on the line to do what's right,” Valencia said. 

Ultimately, Abdulbari and Sweeney said IU’s response to protests has done the opposite of deter them. 

“We know that historically, we will be seen as people who fought for what was right,” Abdulbari said. “Watching the college students and the community and the faculty who are all fighting right now, it's very inspirational, it does definitely ignite a passion because we know that they're sacrificing so much to be in this position, and they're ready to sacrifice so much to be in this position.”  

Sweeney said he now looks to create a larger network of alumni and will continue to organize for policy changes at IU. 

“The more that they try to silence us, the more it's clear that we just have to be louder,” Sweeney said. “[The university] is going to have to realize that a new generation of alumni are their only hope to fund the university for the future. And that new generation of alumni is not going to take this bullshit.”  

Editors Note: Tom Sweeney is a former member of the Indiana Daily Student staff. 

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to include the correct name of the IU Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe