SANTA BARBARA (CN) - An anti-abortion group sued a feminist studies professor from UC-Santa Barbara, claiming she stole a poster and scratched a teenager who was recording a campus protest.
Lead plaintiff Sarah Rivera and 10 others sued UCSB professor Mireille Miller-Young, the university trustees, and two students, on Nov. 6 in Superior Court.
The plaintiffs are members of a group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. They claim that Miller-Young scratched 16-year-old plaintiff Catherine Short during a March 4 protest. Short's 21-year-old sister Joan is also a plaintiff. The lawsuit was filed by their mother, Catherine Short, with the Life Legal Defense Foundation of Ojai.
They seek punitive damages for civil rights violations, conversion and battery.
Miller-Young is an associate professor whose specialties include pornography, sex work and black cultural studies.
News of the incident was quickly picked up by conservative news outlets, which called it a violation of free speech.
Miller-Young charged with grand theft from a person, battery and vandalism. She pleaded no contest and was sentenced in August to 3 years probation, 100 hours of community service and ordered to take anger-management classes.
The lawsuit claims the fracas unfolded like this:
The plaintiffs were in a designated free speech area on campus, handing out literature and displaying graphic photos of aborted fetuses, when Miller-Young walked by and began to harangue them, attracting a crowd of students, including two co-defendants.
"After Miller-Young began her tirade, some students, drawn by Miller-Young's spectacle, also engaged in similar mockery, insults and yelling," the complaint states.
Eventually, Miller-Young asked the crowd: "'What are we going to do about this? Should we tear down the sign?' She then began to chant with students: 'Tear down the sign!' After less than a minute, the chant died away."
After a few moments, the complaints states, Miller-Young yanked the sign away from plaintiff Sarah Rivera and walked off with it.
As Catherine Short recorded the incident, Miller-Young and others headed toward her office. Catherine Short tried to enter an elevator with the group, but "Miller-Young then struck Catherine Short repeatedly, both kicking her foot and pushing her body to get her away from the elevator so the door could close and she and the other defendants could get away with the sign."
Miller-Young pulled Short's arms, leaving scratches, the plaintiffs say. Miller-Young and others then destroyed the sign.
The Ventura County Star reported that the plaintiffs' group, which is not a party to the lawsuit, reflects their belief that everyone born since the Roe v Wade decision is a survivor of constitutionally protected abortion rights. The group frequently visits schools in the area.
Their protests are controversial due to their use of graphic images. Miller-Young told police she was triggered by the images because she was pregnant and teaches about reproductive rights. According to a police report, she didn't believe the protestors had a right to be on campus and she had a moral right to take the poster.
"I think I did the right thing," she allegedly told police. "But I acknowledge that I probably should not have taken their poster."
Campus regulations allow protests in designated outdoor areas if they do not impede vehicle or foot traffic. After the incident, vice chancellor for student affairs Michael Young sent an email to UCSB students, calling the protesters "outsiders coming into our midst to provoke us." But he said they had a right to free speech.
"We're not trying to provoke fights," Joan Short told the Star. "It's an emotional issue, and we do want people to think about it and feel something about it."
Miller-Young declined to speak during her sentencing hearing. In giving her probation and community service, Superior Court Judge Brian Hill said Miller-Young embarrassed herself and the university. "She set a bad example for her students."
While nearly 2,000 people signed a petition in support of Miller-Young - some blaming her actions on a "cultural legacy of slavery" and the effects of pregnancy -Joan Short's appearance on Fox News made her a minor celebrity at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, where she was a junior at the time.
"People come up to me and say, 'Joan, you're famous,'" she told the Star.
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