BYU orders freshmen to pay $1,200 for theft

UTAH — The Brigham Young University honor court dispensed a $1,200fine to two students who confessed to stealing copies of the campus studentnewspaper in February.

The students were identified after BYU police initiated an investigationinto the Feb. 16 theft of 10,000 copies of the Daily Universe.

The two freshmen later confessed and their punishment was left in thehands of the school’s honor court, which also had the option of imposingprobation or suspension.

Although the honor court does not comment on individual punishments,Ellen Hernandez, office manager of BYU’s NewsNet, the school’s integratednews operation, said the amount of the fine was determined based on thevalue of the stolen papers.

“We were asked to submit what our loss in revenue, readership, etc.,was for that day, and we did a fairly conservative guesstimation and submittedthat figure to them,” Hernandez said.

Although the students’ motivation for the theft was never officiallyreleased, the theft apparently occurred after the two students, whose nameswere not disclosed, were unhappy with some of theDaily Universe’s coverageof the upcoming student government elections.

Specifically, the two students wanted to prevent the campus communityfrom seeing an article that raised questions about the qualifications oftwo SGA candidates. University officials said the students were not connectedwith the election.

Student editors said they were pleased with the university’s reactionto an act that has often gone unpunished on other campuses.

“I was very pleased to see BYU step up and actually punish the two menwith more than a slap on the wrist,” said Rob Rogers, the paper’s associatecity editor. “I feel it’s a real vote of confidence from the administrationon our program.”

However, Daily Universe editors said they would have liked tohave seen criminal charges filed against the two students.

“The whole reason BYU had to step up was because the Provo City attorneyrefused to prosecute the two men on the grounds that you can’t steal freenewspapers from a precedent set by a vaguely similar case two years agoin Salt Lake City,” Rogers said.

In that case, Salt Lake City attorney Neal Gunnarason allegedly removedcopies of the Salt Lake City Weekly to protest what he felt was anegative article. The Provo City attorney was one of three local officialswho decided not to file charges in that case because the newspapers werefree.

“Everyone here felt vexed,” Rogers said. “The case in Salt Lake Citywas bogus, and the attorney here showed no real zeal in pursuing the case.”

Still, Hernandez said she feels that BYU, at least, took the theft seriouslyand supported the paper throughout the situation.”I felt like it was taken very seriously and handled in a good manner,”Hernandez said. “They did what they felt was right and supported us inour claims and our accusations. They acknowledged the fact that there wasa theft from us and we did lose revenue because of it.”