Judge dismisses charge against UNC protester

STAFF WRITERSeptember 14, 2009 

A judge today dismissed a disorderly conduct charge against a UNC-Chapel Hill student in connection with an anti-illegal immigration speaker on campus last spring.

Morehead-Cain scholar Haley Koch, a senior, was accused of holding a banner in front of another student who was introducing former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican known for his anti-illegal immigrant stance.

Students for a Democratic Society rallied about 30 protesters inside the building where Tancredo spoke, and some shouted him down. YouTube videos and media coverage sparked critics to call the protesters' actions undemocratic, but some witnesses say campus police inflamed the situation.

Koch was one of seven young activists in court today on charges they disrupted two former congressmen who spoke at UNC-CH. The others were banned from campus for two years after their arrest a week later at former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode's speech.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman is eager to dispose of the protesters' cases. He may again offer them deferred prosecution or a plea deal, which they rejected in June.

Meanwhile, policymakers continue to debate the issue that got lost amid the protests. This week, the state Board of Community Colleges will decide whether to admit illegal immigrants at out-of-state tuition rates -- a policy that has changed four times since 2000. The proposal from the board's policy committee would give priority to lawful U.S. residents and require a diploma from a U.S. high school.

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