One student disciplined for theft, others go unpunished

While journalists at six student newspapers expressed frustration over unresolved and unsolved cases of newspaper theft, at least one newspaper theft incident ended in punishment this spring for the student found responsible for the theft. 

After an article ran in a student newspaper at the University of Central Florida exposing the criminal record of a homecoming queen candidate, nearly 1,000 copies of the newspaper were stolen from distribution racks on campus.

Brian Linden, co-publisher of the newspaper, said the police only took a report after Linden showed them that other universities had prosecuted students for stealing copies of free newspapers.

Like many thefts of free newspapers, the local district attorney did not investigate the matter despite an eyewitness account from The Future’s sports editor who reported that he saw “this girl with a stack of newspapers … heading toward the trash can.”

Linden and co-publisher, Heissam Jebailey, pursued the matter with the school’s campus disciplinary office.

The Orlando university’s punishment required Katie Noland, the homecoming queen candidate, to perform 16 hours of community service and pay the newspaper $1,000 for her role in the theft, Linden said. He said Noland admitted to directing other students to throw away stacks of the newspaper.

Because a Florida law prohibits universities from releasing information about student disciplinary records, it is unclear whether the school punished others involved in the incident. Noland informed the newspaper about her punishment, Jebailey said.

Noland did not respond to requests for comment.

 Although one newspaper theft punishment was made public, other papers have stopped investigating old thefts.

At the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, a fraternity stole nearly 3,000 copies of The Advance-Titan in October 2002 to make their homecoming float. The newspaper reported a similar occurrence the previous year and students were warned against taking the papers. The newspaper said university and local police took no action against any students and it was too late for the newspaper to issue a bill for the costs of the theft. The newspaper did, however, add a disclaimer to the paper stating that each student is allowed one copy of the paper and each additional copy is 50 cents.

At Vincennes University, virtually the entire press run of the April 1, 2003, edition of the student newspaper was stolen. The edition was an April Fool’s Day spoof. The student government president denied allegations that he took the papers. The school and city prosecutor have decided not to take action on the case.

Nearly 1,500 copies of the student newspaper at the University of Michigan at Dearborn were taken in April 2003. The student editor is unsure of who might have stolen the paper and what the motive was. After nearly a year with no suspects, the newspaper stopped pressing officials to investigate the case.

About 2,400 copies of the Daily Californian, a student newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley, were stolen in May 2003. Newspaper staff members recovered about 1,000 copies of the paper. Two days after the incident, two students were arrested in conjunction with the newspaper theft, but the local district attorney decided not to prosecute them because they could face heavier sanctions from the school. The school investigated and held a judiciary hearing for student code of conduct violations, but officials refused to release the results.

The theft occurred before the city of Berkeley passed an ordinance outlawing the theft of free newspapers.

In August 2003 more than 7,500 copies of the Middle Tennessee State University student newspaper were stolen. The newspaper’s editor believed fraternity members might have been involved in the theft because the lead story was about two fraternities that owed more than $60,000 rent on each of their fraternity houses. After six months with no arrests, the newspaper staff has stopped pressing campus police to investigate the theft.

About 3,000 copies of The Exponent, a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, were stolen in October 2003. Student journalists were not sure who might have taken the papers. The staffers said they put the investigation in the hands of the campus police, but have not heard anything and do not expect to.