Judge Dismisses Teen's Lawsuit Against Newspaper, Claims False Info Was Opinion
by Sandy Malone and Christopher Berg
Park Hills, KY – A judge has dismissed a Covington Catholic High School student's $250 million defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post.
The lawsuit accused The Washington Post of "a modern-day form of McCarthyism" and alleged the newspaper targeted Sandmann and "using its vast financial resources to enter the bully pulpit by publishing a series of false and defamatory print and online articles... to smear a young boy who was in its view an acceptable casualty in their war against the president."
FOX News reported that the lawsuit said the newspaper "ignored the truth" about the incident and says the paper "falsely accused Nicholas of... 'accost[ing]' Phillips by 'suddenly swarm[ing]' him in a 'threaten[ing]' and 'physically intimidat[ing]' manner... 'block[ing]' Phillips path, refusing to allow Phillips 'to retreat,' 'taunting the dispersing indigenous crowd,' [and] chanting, 'Build that wall,' 'Trump2020,' or 'Go back to Africa,' and otherwise engaging in racist and improper conduct. ..."
On Friday, Judge William Bertelsman dismissed the lawsuit, claiming that the newspaper only reported on Native American drummer Nathan Phillips' opinion about what happened.
"The Court accepts Sandmann's statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone," the judge wrote, according to WLWT.
"However, Phillips did not see it that way. He concluded that he was being 'blocked' and not allowed to 'retreat.' He passed the conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but, as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment," the judge continued. "And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions."
However, the newspaper didn't relay an opinion; the reported facts were totally false.
Sandmann became infamous after a group of teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School were filmed doing school spirit chants as they waited for their bus to pick up their group at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18.
A video was posted of an Nathan Phillips beating on a drum in the midst of the group of boys, and the poster alleged that the boys had surrounded the man in a threatening manner.
Social media went wild condemning the boys, many of whom were sporting Make America Great Again baseball caps.
Eventually, Sandmann outed himself as the teen in front of the group, smiling at the old man as he beat his drum and chanted.
"I never interacted with this protester. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protesters, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers,” Sandmann said, according to NBC News.
And more videos were released that showed the high school boys were being heckled by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites when the Native American man drummed his way into the middle of their group.
Black Hebrew Israelites are a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated black supremacist hate group who believe that they are the lost tribe of Israel and that other Jews are impostors.
Despite a hate group being present harassing children, the native man confronted the group of teens.
Many of the boys’ critics who had initially condemned Sandmann and his classmates walked back their harsh comments after seeing the full videos of what actually happened.
But a number of mainstream news media organizations, including The Washington Post, and high-profile entertainers have not apologized for irreparably damaging the teen’s reputation and calling on followers to harm him.
Attorneys L. Lin Wood of Atlanta and Todd V. McMurtry of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky later signed on to represent the 16-year-old Sandmann against the entities that defamed or libeled the high school junior, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.
In early February, they announced they had sent dozens of preservation letters to as many as 50 media outlets and celebrities who were potential litigation targets.
"In the coming weeks, we will be carefully reviewing all of the false accusations and threats made against Nick. We fully expect that a multitude of civil lawsuits will be filed and aggressively pursued," Wood said in a statement posted on his website at the time. "We recognize that justice for Nick will not be achieved quickly, but we are dedicated to achieving it for this young man regardless of time or expense."
Wood represented the late Richard Jewell after he was initially accused of the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, and several members of JonBenet Ramsey’s family, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.
Some targets have since recanted earlier statements and accusations, FOX News reported.
Bishop Roger Foys, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, had been heavily criticized for jumping to conclusions when he initially condemned the students' behavior.
The diocese was on the list of organizations that received a preservation letter.
The bishop later changed his tune and sent a letter to parents that said the boys had been "placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening."
But The Washington Post did nothing to make up for their egregious errors.