ACLU flies suit on behalf of one of the ‘Killian Nine’

\nFLORIDA – The local press has dubbed them “The Killian\nNine.” If this was the Old West, the profiles of these high\nschool students would be plastered on “wanted” posters.\nBut it is the 1990s, and instead, they have an ACLU attorney\non their side, filing a lawsuit against the county and school\nboard.

In February 1998, nine Killian High School students, five girls\nand four boys between the ages of 16 and 18, distributed an underground\nnewspaper entitled First Amendment to the disapproval of\ntheir principal, Timothy Dawson. Within a week, Dawson had the\nstudents arrested, jailed over night and suspended from school,\nwhich later turned into expulsion.

The American Civil Liberties Union responded.

ACLU attorney Steven Wisotsky filed a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade\nCounty School Board and school police officer Michael Alexander\non behalf of one of the nine students, Liliana Cuesta, now 19.\nCuesta is believed to have the strongest case against the defendants,\naccording to the ACLU who is concerned that Cuesta’s First, Fourth\nand Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated after she was strip\nsearched during her arrest.

No trial date has been set.

“These children should never have been arrested,” said\nJohn de Leon, Miami chapter president of the ACLU, to the Miami\nHerald. “The law is clear that this is protected activity\nunder the First Amendment and not subject to criminal sanction.”

\nDawson, an African-American principal, said he feared for his\nlife after reading such lines in the newspaper as, “I often\nhave wondered what would happen if I shot Dawson in the head and\nother teachers who have pissed me off.” He also took offense\nto racial jokes about Cuban and African-American students. The\nfront page of the pamphlet displayed a picture \nof Dawson’s head with a dart in his forehead.

The students were charged with two hate crimes: a misdemeanor\nthat forbids the anonymous publication of hateful material; and\nan “enhancement” charge, meaning the penalty may increase\nif a crime is motivated by racism. However, the charges were\neventually dropped.

The pamphlet, which was distributed without any of the authors’\nnames, also contained crude and derogatory remarks and illustrations\nagainst the school administration and school security guards.\nOne cartoon reveals a character resembling Dawson engaged in\nwhat appears to be a sex act, while another depicts the security\nguards coming on strongly to female students.

The anonymous authors were revealed when a student left a sheet\nof paper listing the names of the responsible parties on Dawson’s\ndesk. Dawson then took action.

After suspending the students for ten days (the maximum suspension\nallowed), the school board then elected to revoke the students’\nenrollment, not allowing the students to return to Killian.

“The students had the right to publish the obscene and the\ntrashy material in the publication,” said Holmes Braddock,\na Miami-Dade County Public School Board member, who supports the\nschool’s decision, “but they stepped over the boundary when\nthey threatened to kill the principal.”

“Anybody with an IQ over five could see the pamphlet was\na satire,” David Morales, one of First Amendment’s\nauthors, said to the Herald. “To take it as a death\nthreat is ridiculous.

“There was no racist intent in it. All nine of us are completely\nagainst racism. I’m Hispanic myself. Half of us are.”

According to Morales, three of the nine students are at least\npart Hispanic; another is Asian-American and another is part African-American.

Two months after the first pamphlet was published, the “Killian\nNine” distributed a final issue of The First Amendment, explaining\ntheir original intentions.

“We got together to inform and to educate,” wrote Victoria\nFitzgerald. “Yes, we used many cuss words, but that was\ndone to punctuate our sentences. We were charged with hate crimes.\nBut we had no hate, just frustration and anger. Anger towards\nan institution that has utter control over many aspects of the\nway we think.”

“As for those who say we have not suffered enough, believe\nme when I say we have,” wrote Cuesta. “When you’re\nsitting in jail for 12 hours, all you can think about is how much\nyou’ve hurt those around you and that hurts more than anything\nelse.”

The school board took no action against the students for their\nfarewell edition of First Amendment, which included collages\nof headlines of freedom of speech, because they say there were\nno racial threats. Dawson, though, was referred to as a “tyrant\n… not concerned for his life, only revenge.”