Court Dismisses Covington Student's Lawsuit Against the 'Washington Post'

A federal judge has thrown out a Kentucky teenager’s lawsuit against The Washington Post after it reported on the teen’s viral encounter with a Native American activist back in January.

Nicholas Sandman, a student from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, went viral earlier this year after a video emerged of him and his friends wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and confronting Native American activist Nathan Phillips while he was beating a drum in front of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the Indigenous People’s March. While beating the drum, Phillips stated that Sandmann and his friends yelled derogatory comments at him before the stare down was caught on video, ABC News reported.

“Sandmann did not confront Phillips or move toward him, and Phillips made no attempt to go past or around Sandmann. Sandmann remained silent and looked at Phillips as he played his drum and sang,” the lawsuit read. “The encounter ended when Sandmann and the other students were told to board their buses.”

At the time of the incident, President Donald Trump threw his support behind Sandmann and the other Covington Catholic High School students who were at the rally.

“Looking like Nick Sandman & Covington Catholic students were treated unfairly with early judgements proving out to be false — smeared by media. Not good, but making big comeback!” Trump previously tweeted.

“Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be. They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good — maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!” Trump continued.

Sandmann’s family filed a complaint against The Washington Post on February 19 for $250 million, according to the lawsuit. The teenager’s parents stated that the Post “ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President," according to ABC News.

The lawsuit was dismissed on July 26. Judge William O. Bertelsman ruled that seven of the Post’s articles and three of the publications tweets about the teen are protected by the First Amendment, according to court documents obtained by CBS News.

"Few principles of law are as well-established as the rule that statements of opinion are not actionable in libel actions," Bertelsman wrote in the documents obtained by the news station.

Sandmann’s family said in a statement following the news that it would ask the appeals court for a review of the case.

“I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance. If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe,” said Sandmann’s father, Ted Sandmann.

Todd McMurty, co-counsel for the teen’s family, said in a statement that his firm would continue to fight for Sandmann’s reputation.

“The law must protect innocent minors targeted by journalists publishing click-bait sensationalized news. This is especially true in the current hyper-partisan political environment,” McMurty said. “The attorneys and family plan to take the next few days to evaluate the court’s adverse decision and begin the appeal.”

The Washington Post director of communications, Shani George, said the publication is “pleased’ that the lawsuit was dismissed.

“From our first story on this incident to our last, we sought to report fairly and accurately the facts that could be established from available evidence, the perspectives of all of the participants, and the comments of the responsible church and school officials," George said. "We are pleased that the case has been dismissed."

This is not the only lawsuit the family has filed. In January, the attorneys representing the teen sent more than 50 letters to media outlets, Catholic organizations, and celebrities to begin the process of possible libel and defamation lawsuits. The list was first obtained by the Cincinnati Enquirer, which showed 54 names and organizations on the list.

Some of the names on the list included The New York Times, CNN, actress Alyssa Milano, broadcaster Joy Reid, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The list also named the Catholic dioceses of Convington and Lexington, along with the archdioceses of Louisville and Baltimore.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.