Sarasota officials on Thursday dropped all charges against a New College of Florida student accused of spitting on one of the school’s trustees during a protest in May.
Catherine “Libby” Harrity had been charged with battery after allegedly spitting on trustee Christopher Rufo outside Gov. Ron DeSantis’ May 15 bill-signing ceremony at the public university in Sarasota. Rufo tweeted about the charges in July, alleging “a mob of New College students surrounded me and screamed epithets.” Harrity, he wrote, “broke the police line and spat on me.”
Harrity came to an agreement with New College officials and Rufo to withdraw from the school in exchange for having the first-degree misdemeanor charges dropped, according to a court document. Rufo requested that Harrity not return to campus as part of the agreement, Harrity said.
Harrity denied Rufo’s representation of events, but said that agreeing to withdraw from the school was the only acceptable option to end the criminal trial and to prevent her from facing the threat of expulsion.
“We are glad that all parties were able to work everything out amicably,” New College spokesperson Nate March said in an email. “Multiple options were discussed with the student to resolve the matter, and the final arrangement was mutually agreeable.”
Rufo has at times been a controversial figure as one of six New College trustees appointed by DeSantis in January. Known for his opposition to critical race theory and university diversity programs, he immediately called for major changes at the school.
Harrity, who was president of the New College student senate and a consistent presence at campus events protesting the new leadership, said the charges were “an attempt to punish me and are a scare tactic to silence and harass students.”
Harrity added: “It needs to be clear that I’m not some random kid. I was an important part of the campus community and I’ve been forced out.”
Ian Hodgson is an education data reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, working in partnership with Open Campus.
• • •
Sign up for the Gradebook newsletter!
Every Thursday, get the latest updates on what’s happening in Tampa Bay area schools from Times education reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek. Click here to sign up.