July 31, 2014

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Activist arrested for posting pamphlets

OBERLIN — A community activist who fought development of a Wal-Mart north of town and continues to fight a housing and commercial project downtown has been charged with criminal mischief in connection with pamphlets posted on newspaper boxes.
Mark Chessler, 49, of Amherst Township, vowed to fight the charge and pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday.
“The word for this is whistle-blower intimidation,” Chessler said.
Oberlin police Capt. Clif Barnes said items may legally be posted on bulletin boards, but the law prohibits defacing or tampering with private property. The crime is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.
Barnes said police had repeatedly warned Chessler about posting items on newspaper boxes, phone booths and businesses downtown. Reports show police responded to complaints about Chessler on Dec. 9, 2006, and Jan. 8 and he was advised Jan. 8 to take the pamphlets down, he said.
Councilman David Ashenhurst reported the latest incident shortly before 4 p.m. Memorial Day, according to a police report. When an officer confronted Chessler, he was holding a roll of tape and copies of a newspaper story about the Sustainable Communities Associates project planned by three Oberlin College graduates at 43 E. College St., according to the report.
The report said Chessler denied posting the pamphlets, and the officer asked him to remove them, saying Chessler would not be cited to court if he did so.
Chessler responded that “no person had seen me do this, so you have no evidence,” according to the report.
Police see it another way.
 “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck,” Barnes said, adding that Ashenhurst is “a reliable witness.”
Chessler’s arrest comes after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ordered SCA on May 18 to submit a plan within 30 days to correct deficiencies in a ground water monitoring program at the site where a tank containing hazardous waste was removed in August 2004.
SCA has until mid-June to correct the problems in the monitoring plan, OEPA spokesman Jim Leach said.
Chessler’s next court hearing is June 26, and a jury trial is set for July 9.
At his first hearing, Chessler warned Oberlin Municipal Court Judge Thomas Januzzi that he hoped he did not have a lot of vacation planned this summer. Chessler has the distinction of being a plaintiff in the longest running civil case ever recorded in Oberlin Municipal Court, Chessler said.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.