ACLU of Ohio Kent State Project records
Scope and Contents
Records of ACLU of Ohio attorneys document preparation for the retrial of Krause v. Rhodes in 1978. Because the retrial was the culmination of a long, difficult legal battle for accountability in the deaths of four students and the injury of nine others, the collection includes not just materials assembled specifically for the 1978 trial, but also materials gathered for previous lawsuits related to the May 4th shootings.The collection includes documents filed in various courts such as briefs, memoranda and motions, transcripts of trial proceedings, and depositions. It also includes materials produced by the attorneys and their staff, such as correspondence, research memoranda, legal stragety communications, and witness files of individuals who testified at one or more trials.
A particular strength of the collection is two sets of interview transcripts prepared by the ACLU of Ohio, one set from 1970 and another from 1975. In 1970, individuals were interviewed about civil liberties violations they might have observed before, during, and after the May 4th, 1970 shootings. The 1975 interviews appear to have been conducted to gather additional eyewitness information in preparation for the 1975 civil trial. Finally, the collection includes a considerable amount of background material gathered from a variety of sources, such as investigative agencies, the media, Kent State University, and other parties interested in the events surrounding the May 4th shootings.
- Circa 1960-1980
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research. Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site. Copies of commercially produced audiovisual materials contained in this collection cannot be made for researcher use outside of the repository.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the ACLU of Ohio has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of the ACLU of Ohio, 2006.
The ACLU of Ohio Kent State Project records appear to have been promised to Yale just after the 1979 settlement. The attorneys and the families were concerned that if the materials were deposited with a quasi-governmental organization such as the Ohio Historical Society, they might be mishandled or manipulated, thus endangering the historical record -- so great was the distrust of government officials after the protracted legal battle for justice.
The materials had been stored in a Columbus, Ohio office for some years, and in 1995 the ACLU of Ohio staff had no record of the fact that the records had been promised to Yale. That year the files were deposited at Princeton University, the official repository of the national American Civil Liberties Union. After the previous arrangement came to light, the records were shipped from Princeton to Yale in 2002, and a formal deed of gift was signed in 2006.
Arranged in three series: I. Legal Documents, 1970-1980. II. Attorney Work Product, 1970-1980. III. Background Materials, circa 1960-1979.
62.2 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
Records of ACLU of Ohio attorneys document preparation for the retrial of Krause v. Rhodes in 1978. Because the retrial was the culmination of a long, difficult legal battle for accountability in the deaths of four students and the injury of nine others, the collection includes not just materials assembled specifically for the 1978 trial, but also materials gathered for previous lawsuits related to the May 4th, 1970, shootings at Kent State University. The collection includes documents filed in various courts such as briefs, memoranda and motions, transcripts of trial proceedings, and depositions. It also includes materials produced by the attorneys and their staff, such as correspondence, research memoranda, legal stragety communications, and witness files of individuals who testified at one or more trials.
Biographical / Historical
The American Civil Liberties Union, founded in 1920, works to defend the individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. While local ACLU chapters formed as early as 1921, a statewide Ohio ACLU affiliate was not formed until 1951. The statewide group remained a relatively small, unincorporated grassroots organization over the next two decades. The organization drew its influence as much from its local chapters as from its national and state groups.
Benson Wolman had just been hired as the state organization's executive director when four students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970. The National Guard had been called to the Kent campus to disperse a protest against Nixon's incursion into Cambodia. At 12:24 pm, a group of Guardsman turned together towards the students and fired about 60 rounds into the crowd. Four students were killed and nine others were disabled or injured. Twenty-nine guards admitted firing.
Within days of the deaths of Sandra Scheuer, Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, and William Schroeder, the Kent Chapter of the ACLU deployed volunteers to interview witnesses about possible civil liberties violations that may have taken place before, during and after the May 4th disturbance. The national ACLU and Ohio affiliate joined together to form the Kent State Project, not just to redress the constitutional violations suffered by the victims of the shootings, but also those experienced by other students and community members as a result of the disturbance. The United Methodist Church also provided support and funds for the case. For instance, the ACLU intervened in the following situations where constitutional rights were violated:
- The dorm rooms of 8,500 students were searched without warrants days after the shootings (Morgan v. Hayth).
- Students and university officials were ordered by county judges not to publicly discuss a state grand jury report, violating their free speech rights (King v. Jones).
- A ban on student voting in academic communities was overturned (Fridrich v. Brown).
- Local officials tried to deny needy students the right to food stamps.
- Student groups were infiltrated by undercover agents in an attempt to entrap them, which involved unlawful surveillance and an invasion of privacy (VVAW v. Fyke).
- Limitations were sought on the use of deadly force, premature use of troops and nonarrest detentions (Morgan v. Rhodes, sub. Nom. Gilligan v. Morgan).
At the same time, the national ACLU and the Ohio affiliate offered legal representation to the victims. Sarah and Martin Scheuer, the parents of Sandra Scheuer, retained the ACLU as legal counsel, and the case became captioned Scheuer v. Rhodes (James Rhodes was Ohio's governor at the time). Other victims subsequently retained private attorneys, including the Krause family.
In the years that followed a number of investigations, grand juries and trials were undertaken, none of which resulted in a determination of accountability for the shootings. Attorneys for the Guardsmen argued that the individual Guardsmen were personally immune from civil charges because they were acting in their capacity as state officials. The attorneys for the families argued, however, that the Guardsmen had violated the victims' constitutional rights by depriving them of their due process rights: in essence, that they were killed or injured by government officials without being charged with or convicted of any crime. The case Scheuer v. Rhodes reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided that the Guardsmen could be sued as individuals. A victory in Scheuer v. Rhodes turned out to be a pivotal legal milestone, for it allowed a civil suit for damages against the National Guardsmen to go forward.
The pressure to pursue redress in a civil suit heightened when the National Guardsmen were exonerated in a criminal trial, U.S. v. Shafer, in 1974. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Scheuer v. Rhodes that same year allowed the families to pursue a civil suit. A district court consolidated the families' lawsuits, and the merged case, captioned Krause v. Rhodes, reached trial in the spring of 1975. ACLU attorneys joined with the private attorneys to argue wrongful death and injury. A jury found in favor of the Guardsmen, and the victims and their attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that a number of procedural and jury instruction errors prevented a fair trial. The Supreme Court acknowledged the errors, and sent the case back for retrial. The ACLU agreed to take on the appeal of this decision, and the trial began in late December 1978. The case was argued by ACLU attorney Sanford J. Rosen. After only a few days in court, the parties agreed to a settlement, in which the Guardsmen agreed to sign a "statement of regret," and $675,000 in damages was distributed among the victims and their families. Attorneys' fees were also awarded.
The settlement was controversial. Some felt a better resolution could have been reached, or that allowing the trial to reach a jury again could have produced a finding against the Guardsmen, while others felt that the settlement closed the door on a tragic time in our nation's history. In the words of the family in the statement they issued after the settlement was reached: "The State of Ohio although protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity and consequently not legally responsible in a technical sense, has now recognized its responsibility by paying a substantial amount of money in damages for the injuries and deaths caused by the shootings."
Processing of the records and making them available to researchers was complicated by a court order issued in 1979, following the settlement, that sealed certain records or required that they be redacted. No one could verify whether the files shipped to Yale in 2002 had been brought into compliance with the court order. In 2006, an ACLU of Ohio staff member, who was also a library and information science student, worked in Manuscripts and Archives at Yale for a month to remove all confidential materials sealed by the court order so that the files could be opened for research. The ACLU staff member, in consultation with archivists at Yale, determined the overall arrangement of the records.
- Guide to the ACLU of Ohio Kent State Project Records
- Under Revision
- compiled by Ann Rowlett and William Landis
- June 2007
- Description rules
- Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository
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