For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Weintraub, C.J.
A jury found defendant guilty on an indictment charging that he entered Trenton High School with the intent to disrupt classes therein and otherwise to interfere with the peace and good order of that school. He was fined $500. We certified his appeal before the Appellate Division acted upon it.
The statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:149A-2, reads:
Any person, other than a bona fide student therein or parent or legal guardian of such student or a teacher, administrator, or other school employee while in the performance of his duties, who enters any building, structure or place used for any educational purpose with the intent of disrupting classes or of otherwise interfering with the peace and good order of the place shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Defendant advances several constitutional issues. In one of his points, defendant argues that his entry into the school building was "innocent." We are not sure whether the thrust is only that the State is powerless to punish an "innocent" act notwithstanding the intent or purpose with which the act is done, or whether defendant contends also that there was no evidence that he entered the school with the purpose the statute forbids. We will deem both questions to be before us and deal first with the sufficiency of the proof.
Defendant, a lay minister, was the director of the House of Soul, a settlement facility in the City of Trenton. Some of the students of the high school gathered regularly at the House of Soul and defendant was interested in their problems. Defendant conceded he was not within the statutory exclusions, i.e., that he was not a student or a parent or legal guardian of a student or an administrator or other school employee. Defendant said he felt he was a "surrogate father," but of course he does not suggest his deep interest in the students brought him within the statutory exclusion. His interest, however, was pertinent to the factual question whether he entered the school with the hostile intent the statute condemns.
Some background facts are relevant. A student had been suspended from the school for refusing to stand during the flag salute. After consulting the American Civil Liberties Union and being advised the suspension violated the Constitution, defendant dispatched a letter dated March 5, 1969 to the acting principal, with copies to the local newspapers, demanding that the disciplinary action be removed from the school record and that a letter of apology be sent to the student and his parents. The letter closed with this:
If these demands are not met, I will take appropriate action to organize the high school students to protest the injustice of this action.
On March 11 the high school was picketed by students, and defendant admitted that he planned the picketing and was in the picket line. Late on that day, Dr. Watson, superintendent of the Trenton schools, reached defendant on the phone and told him that the flag-salute incident had been resolved. Defendant agreed but said there were still other problems, whereupon Dr. Watson invited defendant to a meeting at his office at 8:30 the next morning. Defendant accepted the invitation but he did not keep it. Instead he went to the high school and the indictment arose out of his entrance into that building.
Earlier on March 11 the students planned a sit-in within the school building itself for March 12 and indeed prepared placards at the House of Soul to that end. There was no testimony that defendant knew of those plans prior to the morning of the 12th. Defendant said he then learned from his program director "that the students had planned some type of demonstration at Trenton Central High School that morning" and:
Q. So what did you do? A. Well, at that particular time I had to make a decision on whether I felt I should be at the high school or whether I should keep my appointment with Dr. Watson. [Dr. Watson's office was not at the high school.]
Q. What was your decision? A. My decision was to go to the high school.
Defendant had his program director advise Dr. Watson that he would not keep the appointment and suggest to Dr. Watson that he meet defendant at the school.
When defendant reached the high school he asked to see Dr. Daniels, the acting principal, and was ushered to his office by a policeman. In defendant's words, "I said to him [Dr. Daniels] that there are a group of students that would like to talk to you about some of their grievances." Dr. Daniels received the students in his office, but the meeting aborted when one of the students led a march out of the office. A substantial number of students were in the corridor.
Dr. Daniels tried to have the students enter the auditorium for a grievance session but the students insisted upon the cafeteria. Dr. Daniels acceded to their choice, and a meeting was there held.
The evidence is plain that because of the "sit-in" in the corridor, the scheduled change of classes was prevented and that the existing classes had to be continued to keep the students out of the congested area; that the proceedings in the cafeteria delayed the luncheon for about an hour; that the women employed in the cafeteria were frightened by the commotion to the point where they feared to serve the food, and finally did so only upon the urging and reassurance of the school head.
Defendant's statement of his role was hard to follow. He said he went to the school because he thought he could prevent a demonstration, but the jury could find that on the contrary his purpose was to support the sit-in by his presence, his words, or both, thereby to bring about the very interruptions that occurred. When Dr. Daniels found defendant with a group of the students in the hall after they left his office, Dr. Daniels said to defendant, "You are causing me much trouble now. You are disrupting the school, you should leave," and "You are making the job very difficult for me." Defendant answered, "You didn't have to take this job." Dr. Daniels then handed defendant a copy of the law under which this conviction was had, stating that "You are disrupting this school in violation of this law," to which defendant replied, "Dr. Daniels, don't show me just one law, show me all the laws that pertain to me." Defendant himself testified essentially to the same effect.
Although defendant disavowed a leadership role when asked by Dr. Daniels to intervene to end the sit-in, yet there was testimony that defendant said in the students' presence that "the students had grievances to be heard and that he wanted to have them heard with the proper authorities" and that "generally what he was saying to the students, that they would remain until they could get a proper hearing
with the officials of the school"; that when he was asked to leave, defendant said "He was going to remain and see that the youngsters were given what he thought was a proper education."
Dr. Watson testified that when he talked with defendant on the night of March 11, defendant said he was satisfied with the disposition of the flag-saluting issue, but that defendant "was concerned with some of the other student demands"; that on March 12, following a call from Dr. Daniels, Dr. Watson talked with defendant by phone and asked him why he went to the school rather than to Dr. Watson's office, to which defendant replied, "Well, I have kids here. I am concerned with their problem. I can accomplish far more when I am here with the students than at your office." Dr. Watson testified that when he came to the high school in response to the request of Dr. Daniels, he told defendant that he would be glad to talk with the students, and asked defendant to use his influence with the students to get them into the auditorium, but defendant insisted "I'm not leading the group"; that after the crowd entered the cafeteria, he repeatedly asked defendant to cooperate to end the disorder, but defendant answered that "I am not leading these kids. They have their own concerns. I am just supporting them here. I am not leading them." Dr. Watson said, "I told him three distinct times his behavior was not acceptable and that he should leave the building. I told him I didn't think he was contributing anything to the situation. I thought he should leave the building," but defendant did not leave. Dr. Watson reminded defendant that Dr. Daniels had shown defendant a copy of the statute here involved whereupon Dr. Watson received the same response, that "Dr. Daniels should have shown me all the laws regarding me." Defendant finally left the building at the request of a State Trooper, and the testimony was that the disorder thereupon ended.
A police officer, who was a member of the Community Relations Unit of the police department and who was on
duty at the high school on March 12, testified that defendant became "very loud and boisterous" after reading the copy of the statute handed him by Dr. Daniels; that after saying that "he didn't want to hear some of the laws, he wanted to hear all of the laws," defendant "informed Dr. Daniels that they would stay in the corridors until hell freezes, if necessary"; that when the officer asked defendant to leave the cafeteria "for the good of all those concerned,"
The witness said "there was chaos in the cafeteria"; that defendant, without any apparent invitation, "took the microphone from one of the students who was there and that's when he informed the student body that he was afraid of no damn cops"; that defendant did not try to calm the students, but rather "He infuriated the students, he himself. I don't know what happened to the man that particular day; it really shocked me."
There was further testimony that when defendant finally told the students over the loud speaker system that he was leaving, "he asked them to return with him if they desired to the House of Soul where they could continue their conversations." A defense witness said she was the one who urged the students to follow defendant when he left and that she and some other students did leave with him.
The defense testimony in the main squared with the State's proof, except for defendant's denial that he said he would remain until "hell freezes over" and that he was afraid of "no damn cops." But defendant denied he had a "leadership" role. As to the reason why he went to the school, he said "I had the strong feeling, and maybe I can't articulate the feeling, it was something, a feeling, you know,
I had to be there at the school. I had to figure out, you know, I wanted to be there." He added that "I know I had that appointment that morning with Dr. Watson and that appointment was important to me, but I guess the welfare and well-being of those students I had to figure out what was most important to me, and I felt if I were there that morning I could avoid any disruption. I mean that when I am talking disruption of anything happening, anyone being hurt or any violence erupting at that school. That's why I was there." He explained his role in the cafeteria this way:
Well, at that particular time I was down there and I guess I know sometimes how demonstrations, you know, come off, I felt at that particular time I would have liked to have set the tone for the behavior of people that were attending that meeting, I felt there was an opportunity then to do it. So I went up to the microphone and I requested that anyone that was there who did not have any legitimate grievance or that was there to create a problem that I requested that they leave, because I felt there was some students there that had some legitimate gripes and if that kind of behavior, of any kind of disruptive behavior was exhibited it would work to the detriment of the grievances of the students they had there, so if they could not help them I would prefer them to leave.
It of course is not within our province on this review to decide the factual issue of guilt. Rather the question is whether the evidence could fairly support a finding by a jury that guilt was established beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence is sufficient to that end, the jury's finding must be respected. We are satisfied the evidence was ample. The issue was whether defendant, when he entered the school building, did so "with the intent of disrupting classes or of otherwise interfering with the peace and good order of the place." On the basis of the circumstances antedating his entry and the facts relating to his behavior after the entry, the jury could reasonably ...