U.S. President-elect Donald Trump addresses supporters during his election night rally in New York. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump addresses supporters during his election night rally in New York. REUTERS/Mike Segar

An Orange Coast College freshman suspended for videotaping an instructor making critical comments about President Donald Trump shortly after his election said Wednesday he plans to appeal the punishment and file a lawsuit if the appeal is rejected.

Caleb O’Neil, 19, was suspended for a semester and a summer term and was told he must apologize to the instructor and write an essay “explaining why he shot the video,” his attorney, Bill Becker, said.

“We think this is a clear example of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination that targets conservatives and we’re going to challenge it,” Becker said.

O’Neil will first go through the appeals process at the college, which will result in a hearing, Becker said. If the sanctions are upheld, O’Neil will sue in federal court, Becker said.

The college has 10 to 30 days to decide whether to accept or deny the appeal, Becker said.

O’Neil said he recorded the teacher’s comments because he thought he might face retaliation for missing class time while working on behalf of Trump’s campaign.

“I pulled my phone out because I was obviously scared that I would have repercussions with my grades because she knew that I was a Trump supporter,” he said.

In December, the college’s faculty called on administrators to pursue criminal charges against O’Neil for videotaping professor Olga Perez Stable Cox’s comments criticizing Trump.

The video was posted on YouTube on Dec. 6 and on the college Republican Club’s Facebook page, according to the faculty.

Juan Gutierrez, a spokesman for OCC, said federal law prohibited college officials from commenting on student discipline.

OCC English professor Gary Hoffman said the issue stems from efforts by Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel to manipulate students in the Republican campus club to “cyber bully” educators.

“This guy, Shawn Steel, I’ve always maintained is taking advantage of these students to further his own cause for right-wing causes,” Hoffman said. “What’s weird about it is he’s an attorney and he’s not teaching these students how to confront an instructor in a civil debate. … He’s teaching them how to attack, using cyber bullying to surreptitiously videotape somebody, post something taken out of context and frame it as far away from the spirit in which it was given and create chaos and public response.”

Hoffman characterized the college’s discipline as “pretty mild punishment,” and noted O’Neil could likely just enroll in another community college for a semester.

“It’s the most they could do and what they should have done,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said it was against state code to record someone without their consent. Also, there could be “intellectual property rights issues” regarding materials from a professor’s lectures that could come into play, Hoffman said.

Cox “was a little disoriented when all this started, getting all the hate mail, but I think now she’s more on her own two feet,” Hoffman said.

“She’s a very fair professor,” Hoffman said. “Here’s someone who goes out of her way to be fair and it’s so ironic she got caught in this trap.”

A message left with Steel’s law firm was not immediately returned.

Cox reportedly received death threats after the video was posted. The 68- year-old instructor, a gay Latina, told the Orange County Register last month she made comments about Trump in all three of her human-sexuality classes in an effort to comfort students upset over his election and to discuss access to resources for those who feel discriminated against. On the videotape, she is heard calling Trump’s election an “act of terrorism.”

College officials said earlier they were looking into the propriety of Cox’s comments, but it’s unclear if that examination had been completed or if any action was taken against her.

Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, denounced O’Neil’s suspension.

“This abhorrent decision from the Orange Coast College administration clearly affirms their disdain for one of our nation’s most cherished freedoms: freedom of speech,” Whitaker said. “The Republican Party of Orange County categorically opposes this administration’s attempt to trample over its students’ civil rights and we will be doing everything in our power to support Caleb O’Neil in his effort to appeal the decision.”

— City News Service

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