Student leader admits to taking newspapers and using them as kindling at frat party

WISCONSIN — A student leader at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls has admitted to stealing and burning hundreds of copies of the weekly student newspaper after it reported he received an underage drinking citation.

Tory Schaaf, who is director of the school’s Student Senate, took the issues of the Student Voice from stands soon after its March 22 distribution, and he later used them as kindling for a party bonfire, said Student Voice Editor in Chief Beth Dickman.

Police are investigating the incident, for which Schaaf has apologized. He said he did not take the newspapers intending to burn them, but rather to show off that his name was in the newspaper.

“It was just a really horrible mistake I made. I’m regretting it now,” he said.

He said he did not want to prevent any students from reading the paper, and he said he took only “two hundred” newspapers, although Dickman disputes that claim and estimates the theft in the thousands.

Schaaf questioned the plausibility of that number, saying that it was only he and a friend who took the newspapers and that they could not have carried that many newspapers.

He said he is surprised by attention the story has received in local newspapers, and he said he is concerned the incident could reflect poorly on him as he pursues jobs after college.

“It just blew up really big. I knew what I did was wrong,” he said. “I’m kind of scared of what could happen because of this.”

In addition to the apology, Schaaf has said he will accept any punishment for the theft, and he has volunteered to deliver the newspapers to the stands each week for the remainder of the school year.

“At this point, he wants to do everything he can to make sure everything is set right,” Dickman said. “He calls it a practical joke that got out of hand.”

Editors realized the newspapers were missing soon after they were taken, Dickman said, but it was almost a week until they determined exactly what happened. On March 28, a student told editors that copies of the newspaper were used for a bonfire at a party at the Theta Chi fraternity house.

Editors linked the theft to Schaaf, a member of the fraternity, after they realized he had been identified in the crime blotter section for the citation. A reporter confronted him, and Schaaf admitted to taking the newspapers, Dickman said.

This is the second newspaper theft in four years at the college. In 2003 a student and two accomplices stole roughly 2,000 copies of the Student Voice and held them for ransom as a prank.

The student found responsible was found to be in violation of a university statute against “harassment, fraud, theft, disruption and intimidation.”

The university punished him with non-academic probation for a semester and 10 hours of community service. Dickman said she hopes the administration proceeds in the same manner in this incident.

The newspaper does not include a statement that the first issue is free but additional copies must be paid for. Such provisions are used to determine the monetary damage of stolen newspapers.

Dickman said it is likely the Student Voice will consider introducing such a policy after this theft.

By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer

  • Visit the Student Press Law Center’s Newspaper Theft Forum