CONWAY, Ark. – A University of Central Arkansas student sent to jail for his part in a protest for trans rights at a Conway School Board meeting last year, is appealing his sentence.
Alex Barnett was among the crowd shouting “Trans lives matter” to the school board after an October vote regarding the use of bathrooms and room assignments on overnight trips being determined by a student’s gender at birth.
“I got 10 days in jail for voicing my opinion in a democracy,” Barnett said.
The school policy later inspired a bill that became state law this year.
The November protest ended with three arrests, but as of May 8, Barnett, a junior student at UCA, is the only one sentenced to 10 days in jail.
Barnett, Keylen Botley and Colburn Clark were each charged with the two misdemeanors, criminal trespassing and failure to disperse.
A district judge found Barnett guilty of both and ordered Barnett spend 10 days in jail and pay $400 in fines. Including court costs and other fines, his feels totaled $950.
Following one night at the Faulkner County Detention Center, Barnett appealed for an early release.
According to a statement from the Conway Public School District, the School Board asked the crowd to be quiet multiple times, then they asked police to come in and clear the lobby and remove those being disruptive.
An eyewitness in the crowd that night said Barnett just flopped down on the ground.
“How can someone criminally pass on public property during a meeting open to the public and if I’m not trespassing, how can you tell me to leave the place that I’m at?”, Barnett asked.
District Judge Chris Carnahan sentenced Barnett. The judge campaigned for the Arkansas Supreme Court as “Finally, a Conservative Judge” in 2022.
“I am a leftist protestor going in front of someone who has been running on the fact that he is a conservative judge that just totally breaks down the judicial processes,” Barnett stated.
Our station called Judge Carnahan’s office Monday morning to try and get comment on the appealed case.
Hours later, one of his staff returned our call and said his comment would have to be in person and the earliest that could happen is Thursday morning if one of our reporters came to court and waited through all his other proceedings to speak with him.
Class C misdemeanors are the lowest criminal offense classification in Arkansas. Although they sometimes carry no jail time, the max penalty possible is 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500.
“To me it is a badge of honor. I did the right thing, and I got punished for it, but I’m not going to say sorry for it. I’m not going to back down from it,” Barnett said.
Barnett identifies as bisexual, and if he had not gotten early release through an appeal the UCA junior would have missed all his final exams. He said the message is more important than anything that happened to him.
“This message is more important than whether or not I get arrested. It’s more important than whether I spend time in jail. It’s more important than whether or not I get fined. It’s more important than whether or not I missed my finals, so I figured if this is what I’ve got to do to do the right thing, then this is what I’ve got to do,” Barnett said.
Of the three people arrested during the November protest, one was given no jail time by a different judge. The other will be before Judge Carnahan May 25 at 1 P.M, and Barnett plans to protest outside.