Appeals court rejects suit by Rhode Island student named in crime alert

A student who sued his university for naming him as the assailant in anassault near campus has not yet decided whether to continue his case after afederal appeals court dismissed the suit Dec. 5.

A crime alert issued by Johnson & Wales University in September 2004said Christopher Havlik, then a student at Johnson & Wales, had punchedanother student on a sidewalk near the Providence campus, causing the victim tofall and fracture his skull. The alert also cited witness reports that Havlikhad flashed a knife.

Havlik was expelled and faced criminal charges, but a jury ultimatelyacquitted Havlik in May 2005. Havlik then sued Johnson & Wales, allegingthat the crime alert had defamed him. The school argued that it was protectedfrom Havlik’s suit because it was obligated under the federal Jeanne Clery Actto issue a warning about the assault based on what school officials knew at thetime.

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SPLC View: This was an important victory for advocates of increaseddisclosure of campus crime information. Colleges and universities, many of whichare already reluctant to report criminal activity, should be provided nojudicial “cover” to hide information that could alert the campus community ofpotential threats. While schools should not be allowed to intentionally orrecklessly harm a student’s reputation, in this case, the court found thatuniversity officials had acted in good faith to comply with the Clery Act withno “spite, ill will, or malice” directed at the student.

Cite: Havlik v. Johnson & Wales University, 509 F.3d 25 (1stCir.1 2007)