Former professor continues case vs. DSU in 2012 incident

Dr. Jahi Issa

DOVER — More than 6 1/2 years later, a former Delaware State University professor continues to maintain the school acted improperly regarding an on-campus protest that brought his arrest and charges that were subsequently dropped or ended in mistrial.

Dr. Jahi Issa’s ongoing federal lawsuit against the school includes allegations of false arrest, breach of contract, defamation and retaliation, and a 25-page motion filed Dec. 10 claims that surveillance video of the March 1, 2012 incident near the Martin Luther King Jr. Center should have been preserved early on instead of supposedly being erased.

On Tuesday, DSU declined to speak about the ongoing action.

“Per our policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation, we have no comment,” spokesman Carlos Holmes said.

Minus the video, Dr. Issa’s ability to argue his case is greatly lessened, according to the motion. His attorney is seeking to have the court affirm his claims as the action moves forward.

If those sanctions are not imposed, the plaintiff asks that no mention of existing “other” video or an supposedly uncorroborated “shove” should be mentioned.

“Moreover, even if the Court does not agree that Defendants’ conduct rises to the level of bad faith, defendants were at least grossly negligent in failing to preserve the surveillance video, and Defendants should not benefit from this negligence at Dr. Issa’s expense,” the motion claimed.

Another opportunity for remedy comes with jury instruction regarding the matter, according to the motion, “Although this sanction would not come close to addressing the prejudice to Dr. Issa …”

A 44-page complaint filed April 24 detailed a host of Dr. Issa’s grievances during his time at DSU, including supposed harassment, and racial bias against the former professor. According to the suit at the time, Dr. Issa was homeless and taking his mail at an address in Wilmington.

The incident unfolds

The complaint referenced Dr. Issa supposedly being approached by students planning to peacefully protest the “growing trend in which DSU was abandoning its mission associated with being an HBCU (Historically Black College and University)” on Feb. 29, 2012.

Dr. Issa claimed he was physically assaulted and injured by arresting DSU police at the protest that followed the next day.
Charges against the professor included offensive touching of a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct — offensive utterance, abusive language, and disorderly conduct — refusal to disperse. According to the motion, the offensive touching and disorderly conduct charges were dropped, and the disorderly conduct charge was found to lack probable cause. A resisting arrest count in the Court of Common Pleas was dismissed following a mistrial.

According to the lawsuit, Dr. Issa was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder “secondary to job-related stressors and experiences” on June 17, 2011.

“As a result of his PTSD, Dr. Issa has experienced symptoms including but not limited to chest pain, shortness of breath, and panic attacks triggered by crowded or confined environments,” the lawsuit alleged.

“Dr. Issa also experiences flashbacks related to the harassment and racially motivated intimidation that he suffered at DSU.”

Dr. Issa was placed on paid administrative leave the day after the alleged campus incident and received a notice of discharge on Aug. 17, 2012, according to court documents.

Dr. Issa, represented pro bono by Greenberg Traurig LLP and Ross Aronstam & Moritz LLP, is requesting a jury trial. Also sought are compensatory and punitive damages, back pay and attorneys’ fees.

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