The Young Student Center

The Young Student Center on the Keene State College Campus has hosted several presidential campaign events this past year.

A Bernie Sanders supporter distributing fliers outside a Pete Buttigieg event at Keene State College two weeks ago was banned from campus after he refused to comply with requests by a campaign staffer and a campus safety officer to leave the area.

The Feb. 8 incident reveals the college’s wide latitude to prohibit individuals from its publicly owned 170-acre campus in central Keene, which hosted numerous candidate visits during the run-up to the Feb. 11 presidential primary.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a Democratic presidential candidate, spoke to a crowd of hundreds Feb. 8 in the Mabel Brown Room, part of the college’s Young Student Center.

An incident report from Keene State’s Department of Campus Safety indicates that Norman Solomon — a California-based progressive writer, activist and supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders who has called Buttigieg a “sharp corporate tool” — was outside the student center when he was told he could not remain in the vicinity because the Buttigieg campaign had a scheduled event inside and wanted him to leave.

“The space on Saturday [Feb. 8] was reserved in advance for the Buttigieg campaign,” college spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte said in an email in response to questions from The Sentinel.

“By registering the campaign visit with the college, it means that the room in which the event is happening, and additional support spaces are set aside for that purpose only,” she continued. “The ‘footprint’ for an event always includes a plan for entrance/exit of the audience, press, and candidate.”

In a followup email, she added, “Mr. Solomon was asked to leave because he was handing out literature in a space that was scheduled to be used by a political campaign, which was communicated.”

In an interview with The Sentinel, Solomon said he was handing out literature promoting “Medicare for all,” Sanders’ sweeping proposal for universal government health care, which Buttigieg has attacked as too extreme.

He said he was shocked when a campus safety officer and two Keene police officers told him to leave.

“I viewed it as an abuse of the first amendment, a violation of the first amendment,” he said. “And I also viewed it as a completely inappropriate authority wielded by one particular presidential campaign over a public facility, known as a college.”

The Buttigieg campaign didn’t respond to request for comment Tuesday.

Solomon said that he watched the candidate speak from an overflow room in the student center, then walked outside and started handing out his fliers.

“Two prominent candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are not just opposing Medicare for All — they keep denouncing and distorting it,” the flier proclaimed, above photos of Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden.

According to Solomon and the campus safety incident report, someone affiliated with the Buttigieg event came up and told him to leave.

“The [campaign] front man had explained that they had scheduled the space and that the subject couldn’t be here during that time,” campus safety officer Michael Gomez wrote in the report.

When Solomon refused, two Keene police officers and Gomez were summoned and told Solomon he could be arrested if he continued to disobey.

“This subject again refused to leave and told us he would write about this in his blog,” Gomez wrote. “The police explained it from the beginning, they scheduled the space, they don’t want you in the space and Keene State College Campus Safety has asked [you] to leave the area.”

In the interview, Solomon recalled the officers telling him that the event included not just the space inside the building but also a “perimeter.” He said they did not specify how far that perimeter extended.

Ricaurte, the college spokeswoman, said Keene State’s policy forbids handing out literature within 20 feet of a campus building. Solomon said he believes he was at least 25 feet from the student center doors.

Eventually, Solomon agreed to leave, and officers escorted him to his vehicle, according to the report.

He said the police officers told him he was not welcome on campus because he was disobeying a security officer. “It seemed like any second I could have been arrested,” he said. “So I reluctantly began to walk away.”

After being escorted to his car, Solomon said, he asked the police for something in writing to document his expulsion from campus. That’s when an officer gave him the trespass notice barring him from the “entire campus” for one year, under threat of arrest for criminal trespass.

Keene State College provided The Sentinel with a copy of Gomez’s report in response to a public records request. The Keene Police Department has no documentation of the Feb. 8 encounter, aside from a copy of the trespass notice and a brief log entry noting that it had been served. The two police officers listed in Gomez’s report, Sgt. Thaddeus “T.J.” Derendal and Sgt. Christopher Simonds, did not respond to voicemails left Tuesday afternoon.

Keene State College’s policy on trespass notices gives its security officers wide latitude to ban individuals from campus. The reasons can include criminal activity, threatening or disorderly behavior, disrupting campus activities, unauthorized entry to college buildings, “loitering” and “any other violation at the discretion of the Campus Safety Officer.”

Ricaurte said the college’s policies “are focused on safety and operations of the college as we serve our students first and foremost.”

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS