Trial begins for Dartmouth students accused of trespassing

From left, defense attorney Kira Kelley talks to her clients, Dartmouth junior Roan Wade and freshman Kevin Engel, at the conclusion of the first day of their trial for misdemeanor criminal trespassing at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon on  Monday. The pair’s supporters filled the courtroom after participating in a demonstration in support of Palestine.

From left, defense attorney Kira Kelley talks to her clients, Dartmouth junior Roan Wade and freshman Kevin Engel, at the conclusion of the first day of their trial for misdemeanor criminal trespassing at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon on Monday. The pair’s supporters filled the courtroom after participating in a demonstration in support of Palestine. Valley News / Report For America photos — Alex Driehaus

Dartmouth freshman Ben, top right, who declined to give his last name, shakes hands with sophomore Ramsey Alsheikh, center, president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, while he and junior Jordan Narrol, left, end their eight-day hunger strike during a protest outside  Lebanon District Court in Lebanon on Monday.

Dartmouth freshman Ben, top right, who declined to give his last name, shakes hands with sophomore Ramsey Alsheikh, center, president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, while he and junior Jordan Narrol, left, end their eight-day hunger strike during a protest outside Lebanon District Court in Lebanon on Monday.

Dartmouth junior Marion Caldwell, left, braids junior Roan Wade’s hair as Wade awaits her trial for misdemeanor criminal trespassing at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon on Monday.

Dartmouth junior Marion Caldwell, left, braids junior Roan Wade’s hair as Wade awaits her trial for misdemeanor criminal trespassing at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon on Monday. Valley News / Report For America – Alex Driehaus

Dartmouth Director of Safety and Security Keiselim Montás is called as a witness during the trial of Dartmouth students Roan Wade and Kevin Engel at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth Director of Safety and Security Keiselim Montás is called as a witness during the trial of Dartmouth students Roan Wade and Kevin Engel at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Defense attorney Kira Kelley, left, shows prosecutor Mariana Pastore a section of the Dartmouth Committee on Standards policy that will be referenced while questioning a witness at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Defense attorney Kira Kelley, left, shows prosecutor Mariana Pastore a section of the Dartmouth Committee on Standards policy that will be referenced while questioning a witness at Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-27-2024 9:48 AM

LEBANON — Dartmouth College President Sian Leah Beilock was among a group of senior college administrators who huddled together in an effort to determine what to do about two Dartmouth students who refused to leave a tent pitched in front of her office in the hours before they were arrested on criminal trespassing charges, according to court testimony by the college’s security chief.

Keiselim (Keysi) Montás, director of the Department of Safety & Security and Emergency Operations at Dartmouth, testified Monday in Lebanon District Court during the opening day of the trial of the two Dartmouth student protesters who were arrested by Hanover police in the early morning hours of Oct. 28.

The pair were charged with criminal trespassing after refusing to leave a tent they had pitched on the lawn in front of a college administration building.

Beilock was present at a meeting that “probably” lasted around an hour before Montás subsequently met with Hanover police about the situation, he testified.

Also at the meeting were the dean of the college, the provost, the senior vice president and the associate dean of student life, Montás said.

Last week, Beilock’s attorney, Michael Delaney, in seeking to block a request by the defense to have Beilock testify at the trial, said in a motion to quash her subpoena that the Dartmouth president “has no relevant testimony that she can offer in these cases.”

Delaney’s motion was denied last week by Judge Michael Mace, who is presiding over the trial.

Montás’ disclosure came during cross-examination by defense attorney Kira Kelley, a 2011 Hanover High School graduate who is representing freshman Kevin Engel and junior Roan Wade, the two Dartmouth students charged with criminal trespassing.

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Much of Kelley’s questioning of Montás on Monday focused on whether the college followed its own policies while dealing with the two students who refused to comply with his multiple directives to vacate the tent and take it down.

Under questioning by prosecutor Mariana Pastore, Montás described his interactions with Engel and Wade, who were staging a sit-in outside Parkhurst Hall to protest the Israel-Hamas war and make other demands to the college. The sit-in occurred over the course of three separate days in late October, culminating with their arrest shortly before 1 a.m. on Oct. 28. Montás said he gave multiple warnings to the students that their tent was not permitted by the college, presented safety issues and needed to be removed.

Engel and Wade “asked what policies were being violated, and I explained they were interfering with the normal operations of the institution,” Montás said. That included people entering and leaving Parkhurst Hall, preventing the grounds crew from mowing the lawn and littering the area with refuse.

“They refused to move,” Montás explained, leading to his meetings with college administrators and subsequently Hanover police about removing the students.

During the meeting with college administrators, Montás said, college administrators sought to “see who would be able to persuade the students to come into compliance.”

A spokeswoman for the college declined to comment on Monday citing the ongoing litigation.

At the defense’s request on Monday, Delaney. the former state attorney general who is representing Beilock, was “sequestered” from attending the trial testimony. They had him leave the courtroom’s public gallery before Montás’ testimony was heard.

Both Engel and Wade were at the trial but were not called to testify on Monday.

Their trial was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. but had about a 90-minute delay in starting as the court heard another case, giving less than 90 minutes for the examination and cross of Montás before the judge called a halt at 4 p.m. The court has not yet set future trials dates, including when Beilock would be scheduled to testify.

The trial took place as dozens of Dartmouth students showed up at the district courthouse in Lebanon and as six of the eight students who had been ingesting only fluids for eight days in solidarity with Engel broke their hunger strike on Monday.

“We end it here because we have proven that the administration is refusing to engage in good faith with their students,” striker Ramsey Alsheikh, a sophomore, said to demonstrators gathered in front of the Lebanon District Courthouse before the trial began.

Alsheikh broke his fast with a watermelon — long a symbol of the Palestinian cause — in the parking lot.

But Paul Yang, a senior, and Wade, a junior who is one of the two students on trial, will continue the hunger strike.

“We need to force them to see that their money is resulting in the starvation of students in Gaza,” Wade said. “If those students are going hungry … we need them to realize that their own students will also go hungry.”

“We are pleased that most of the students engaged in a hunger strike have chosen to resume eating,” wrote Dartmouth spokesperson Jana Barnello in a statement.

“Dartmouth medical and student life professionals will continue daily check-ins with them and the students who continue to go without food. Their safety and well-being are our top priority,” she said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.