The editor of a Portland State University campus publication filed a lawsuit March 16 charging that school officials locked the doors to his publication and would not open the doors until he agreed to turn over a box of confidential files that had mysteriously landed in front of the door to the publication’s office.
The box of files, which was originally left outside of the Rearguard office with an anonymous note saying it was found in the catering kitchen of a campus building, contained sensitive university records, according to Dimitrius Desyllas, editor of The Rearguard, an alternative student publication. Another note on the box said the files were confidential and were from 1995.
Desyllas said university officials padlocked the door to the paper’s office Feb. 23 after discovering the paper had decided to pursue an investigative story involving the confidential university files.
Desyllas said campus police followed him around campus for almost two hours, threatened to arrest him and threatened to obtain a search warrant if he did not give them the files, which Desyllas said had been labeled “to be destroyed.” Desyllas refused to comment further on what the files contained.
Rod Diamond, assistant to PSU’s president, said he, the student government president and a campus police officer went to talk to Desyllas after they received a note from him indicating he had the files. Diamond said there was no interrogation and said he talked to Desyllas for no more than forty minutes.
According to Diamond, the university “has not been able to track where that box was between when it was closed” in 1995 and when it was left outside the Rearguard office.
Boxes containing similar records are usually stored in a secured part of the library, Diamond said. The box in question is currently in the hands of the dean of students.
Desyllas said he was allowed back into the office only after giving Diamond the box of files, but Diamond said Desyllas was allowed back into the office to make a phone call. Desyllas had tried to contact the Rearguard adviser while he was questioned, but the adviser was out of town.
The university “never got a search warrant; I don’t think they could,” Desyllas said. “They claimed [the closing] was for security reasons.”
Desyllas said he asked the president of the university for a written apology and a promise that this will not happen again. When the president failed to respond, he filed the lawsuit.
SPLC SENSE: The First Amendment and federal law (and in this case Oregon state law as well) prohibit government officials from shutting down news media workplaces and searching newsrooms or confiscating papers or other information obtained as part of the newsgathering process.