Colburn Clark, one of three University of Central Arkansas students arrested at a nonviolent protest during a Conway School Board meeting in November, was sentenced today to three days in jail and fined $650.
It’s a notably steep penalty for criminal trespassing and failure to disperse charges, both Class C misdemeanors. The prosecution requested only that Clark be fined. But District Judge Chris Carnahan sentenced him to three days in jail for each charge, which may be served concurrently for a total of three days behind bars.
Clark was arrested alongside Alex Barnett and Keylen Botley last November while protesting the Conway School Board’s anti-transgender policies alongside about 40 others. The group was asked to leave the building, but bodycam footage captured Clark, Barnett and Botley remaining seated on the ground, arms linked and shouting “Trans lives matter!” and “The school board is fascist!” until they were taken into custody.
Botley pleaded guilty in December to the same misdemeanors as Clark and Barnett and was fined but got no jail time. Barnett was fined $650 and sentenced to 10 days in jail, but was released after advising authorities he would appeal.
Today, Clark pleaded not guilty. He said he believed that in standing up against hate speech and defending trans rights, he did nothing wrong. Clark’s attorney, Chris Murray, said he was disappointed in the outcome but unsurprised, and they will likely file an appeal.
In a prepared statement from Clark that Barnett shared outside the courthouse, Clark wrote that he considered his actions a necessary response to the comments at the October 11 meeting, when a man said the LGBTQ community deserves death.
“The actions of the board leads me to believe that the charges brought against us were brought against us not because we violated any criminal statute but because the Conway School Board that was present on November 8 did not like what we had to say,” Clark wrote.
Judge Carnahan seemed far more sympathetic to the police officers who testified, saying at one point, “You didn’t want to arrest them, but they made you do it.”
During the trial, a small but formidable group of protestors gathered outside the Faulkner County District Court to support Clark, and their chanting could be heard from inside the courthouse. In a speech to the group, Conway resident and trans rights activist Jess Disney said the November protestors’ refusal to leave drew attention to the systemic denial of public participation.
“We come before this courthouse, not as disruptors,” Disney said, “but as advocates for a more just society. Our voices deserve to be heard, our concerns acknowledged, and our presence respected.”
Rhone Kuta, a Central High School junior and one of a handful of students present representing the LRCH Young Leftists, said that students being jailed for speaking out for trans rights and equality is an example of a rise in authoritarian policies in Arkansas.
“We’re going to keep continuing the fight,” Kuta said. “Judge Carnahan will not scare us.”
Clark was taken into custody following the trial. His attorney said he would be booked and likely bond out.