A much less crowded Nacogdoches remains after SFA students have traveled home for the summer. But the effects of a violent encounter between female students and a Nacogdoches police officer still linger on. Lindsey Ogbonna from Nacogdoches, the student involved in the alleged police brutality incident, was indicted on May 10 on charges including assault against a police officer, which is a felony, and can face up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
After hearing the news, SFA student Savian Nugent, a senior political science major from Houston, was upset.
“Lindsey being indicted, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I made a phone call and another phone call and another. As a result, a coalition was formed,” he said.
Nugent brought together a group of teachers, professors, activists, political figures, parents, doctors and students to form the Nacogdoches Accountability Coalition.
“The prospects of a two-to-20-year sentence, the prospects of a felony on her record, as she is fighting for her future at only 20 years old. This did not sit well with me,” Nugent said.
“What is the grounds for trespassing considering that these young women were at the visitor’s parking lot, and they never touched the pool? That’s a big misconception; Everyone believes they were at the pool making noise. That’s not true. They were at the visitor’s parking lot. The whole incident took place there. Under what grounds is there trespassing? There has to be bias,” Nugent continued.
On the night of April 10, three SFA students; Lindsey Ogbonna, Shannon Williams and Kayla Jackson, were visiting friends at The Verge, an apartment complex in Nacogdoches. On their way to the pool, off-duty Nacogdoches Police Officer Josh Anders approached them and demanded they stop. Not in uniform, the officer tackled the victims after they tried to leave the scene and a confrontation took place.
Since then, Ogbonna has been indicted and there have been protest marches in Nacogdoches. The latest involved a group from Dallas that protested during the June 8 Blueberry Festival. The group was not affiliated with the Nacogdoches Accountability Coalition.
Nugent said the coalition has a dual mission for now: fundraise to pay for legal fees and be a support system for the women involved in the incident. The medium-term goal is to have a citizen review board and to work with city officials to improve criminal justice in the community.
“Eight of us came together. We didn’t have a clear plan; we just knew we had to come up with one,” Nugent said.
With an action plan and a name now, the organization is planning events to kick off the fundraising. The venture will need $10,000 to start, Nugent said.
During a recent meeting, members expressed the need of calling people in for Ogbonna, for support and to bring them into the broader issue. Members believe the broader issue is what lingers on in Nacogdoches, a perceived history of racism and the fear many have of becoming one of those victims.
In the past seven years under Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges, there have been multiple deaths of jail inmates behind bars. When asked, the exact number was not provided by Bridges. But in a June 2017 instance, Deonte Reed was tased; he had a seizure, and his heart stopped beating. Although he survived, his brain went hours without oxygen. The sheriff’s office reported that the inmate may have had other medical illnesses that made his heart stop beating.
In another incident under the previous sheriff, Edwinta Deckard died of dehydration in the Nacogdoches County Jail in December 2011. She was 53 years old. Bridges said all of the deaths were thoroughly investigated.
Nugent said the broader issue is the focus of the coalition, but this summer, they’re focusing on Ogbonna’s case. Since the police department is investigating the officer, the coalition is working to call in the Texas Rangers for an unbiased investigation of the department.
In the meeting, members mentioned that if authorities were able to indict Ogbonna in three weeks, they should do the same for the officer.
Community service organizer Heather Olson Beal, an associate professor at SFA, described her motivation as a member of the Nacogdoches Accountability Coalition.
“As a professor, it’s a duty for us to be concerned for the safety and well-being of our students. When I saw that this happened, I immediately went to my own daughters. There’s sort of an implicit trust that parents feel when you drop them off at school. I hope they’re safe; I hope they’re happy; I hope they learn,” Beal said.
“I feel like, ‘Hey Houston, take care of my girl.’ In the case of students of color, I feel our community violates that trust. I know that those girls are parts of families. I assume that similarly the way I do, their parents count on Nacogdoches to keep them well. I feel like we failed in that regard,” she said.
“I can see the girls were my girls’ ages. However, I can also rest assured that if my little white, blonde- haired girls had been standing outside by the pool at the Verge with a bunch of friends, that the police officer would not have approached them in that way. That’s pure speculation, but there’s data that shows that,” Beal said.
Nugent explained what he thinks is going on.
“You have an entire population of people in this town who don’t sympathize, don’t empathize with the plight of civil rights. If you did a research poll on how people feel about the civil rights act of 1964, I’m pretty sure that if it was anonymous, a big chunk of this town would not be for it. The way people feel behind closed doors means way more than how they feel in the public eye.”
In a recent letter to the editor at The Daily Sentinel, Paul Howe refers to SFA students as “guests” in Nacogdoches.
Disagreeing, Beal described why they are essential to Nacogdoches. “SFA students are the life blood of our whole community. We want them to stay. Even if they only stay for four years, we need them here. They’re part of the economy. It feels like we as a community, are failing. It wasn’t that long ago the KKK decided that Nacogdoches would be a good place to have their annual state-wide meeting. Students don’t feel safe.
“They’re stopping more black, latinx and Hispanic people, but even on the fewer white people they’re stopping, they’re finding more stuff,” Beal said.
Beal shared her experience with the Nacogdoches community, from having her home vandalized, to being verbally abused and even receiving death threats. She says she’s not giving up.
“We need to talk about it. We need people to hear about it. I’m not willing to give it up,” Beal said.
The organization encourages anyone who has experienced police brutality to tell their story. Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday at 901 E. Main St.
“The black and Hispanic populists in Nacogdoches have been oppressed for so long, they don’t make much noise anymore. You begin to lose your fight. You know you’re not going to win. But there will be no more tainting the criminal justice system. Those days are over. You know why? Because NAC exists, and we’re here to stay,” Nugent said. “There’s a lot to work on.”