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Which version of 'truth' is correct? We'll never know, by John McGauley

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There’s a famous 1950 Japanese movie called “Rashomon” — some say the best movie ever made — that examines the nature of truth through the eyes of four people recounting different versions of a crime.

I think we got our own little version of “Rashomon” in Keene with an incident that occurred in March of last year in a dormitory at Keene State College that has confused and befuddled me since I first read about it.

Now, as the story continues to unfold, I feel like I’m looking through a kaleidoscope and more bewildered than ever.

The story begins with two students, a couple of Keene State residence staff and some Keene police officers. But the cast and complexities later expands exponentially to include student protesters, the college president, the police chief, a GoFund Me page, numerous postings on social media, a story in the Union-Leader, a public-records request from The Sentinel, a settlement paid by the college, a “non-disparagement clause,” and, although not officially reported, what must be scads of meetings and — like in all matters in life — the fingerprints of a bunch of lawyers who, as we all know, do not work for free.

My hat is off to Paul Cuno-Booth of The Sentinel, who has reported on this story since its inception, no small feat since the story is perhaps more convoluted than the saga of the Free Keene people and the Bitcoin thing.

As they say, let’s start at the beginning. Ndeye “Khady” Badaine and her fiancé Tyler Clavelle, both Black, were enrolled at KSC last year. They said a residence director prevented Clavelle, who identifies as nonbinary but uses he/him pronouns — from using a woman’s restroom in Badiane’s dorm.

According to Cuno-Booth’s reporting, after a heated back-and-forth, the residence director told Clavelle to leave the building and he wouldn’t. Keene police were called, scuffling ensued and the couple was arrested. They were charged with resisting arrest and later pleaded guilty to a lesser, noncriminal, violation-level offense of that charge.

Suffice it to say that there is a surfeit of different versions of what happened during the incident — the “Rashomon” effect. The story was bound to be supercharged from the start because it had many legs, as they say in the biz, with accusations involving hot buttons these days — racism, LGBT issues and police behavior. The only thing that kept the story tamped down below national furor level was that it occurred the same month COVID appeared.

Since there were no cameras on the scene, so much of the story boils down to “he said, she said, they said” and “he did, she did and they did” conflicting components.

The reason I claim a boatload of attorneys climbed all over this case is that last week, come to find out … well, with the gentle elbowing of a public-records request … KSC reached a settlement with these now former students in which they agree to waive all claims against the college in exchange for KSC providing “around” $42,000 between the two of them in services, forgiven debt and “direct payments.”

In civilian terms: It’s like everybody was flailing away in the boxing ring, a lot of rope-a-dopin’ going on, and everyone was showing bruises. There was no clear TKO after about six rounds, so the refs blew the whistle, ordering everyone to their corners.

The lawyers — the refs — ever clever in negotiating settlements, came up with the untangling of this mess.

It was a horse trade if there ever was one. Everybody shuts up, goes home and gets a little bit of what they want. The former students got some remediations and recompense, as money is called in the legal realm. Keene State College got the former students to not sue them and to stop maligning the place in public and private forums. After all, it’s in the college’s interest to keep bad PR at bay, what with the Pumpkin Festival riot and the fact that COVID has already kneecapped their recruitment efforts.

Here’s the only “official” statement to come from the settlement, anemic and carefully crafted, which we only even know about because of that pesky public-records request:

“Keene State College and two former students, Khady Badaine and Tyler Clavelle, have mutually agreed to resolve their differences without litigation. All involved recognize it is most beneficial for everyone to conclude this case. This outcome is mutually acceptable to both the students and KSC.”

Place this in the archives, quick. Everybody was right and everybody was wrong. Nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong.

Oh, there was one player in this story that never appears.

Us.

Last I checked, taxpayers fund Keene State. But I guess when it comes to complex legal entanglements and disbursement of our funds, we need not be involved. Nothing to see here,; move along.

What really happened in that dormitory on that day in March, 2020? What is the truth?

We’ll never know.

The lawyers made sure of that.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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