MASSACHUSETTS — Students at an independent publication atUniversity of Massachusetts at Amherst are disappointed after adetective’s police report detailing the theft of their paper in Aprilcontradicts witnesses and video footage of the crime.
On April 1, 2009, Student Government Association officer Vanessa Snow andseveral other students stole about 200 out of 6,000 copies of theMinuteman, according to Managing Editor Brad DeFlumeri and a videorecorded by another student. The stolen copies of the Minuteman, a paperpublished by conservative student group the Silent Majority, contained criticismabout the financial practices of Snow, the director of the UMass group StudentBridges. The criticism included a personal attack on Snow.
Snow did not return multiple e-mails.
The stolen papers were worth approximately $600, because theMinuteman charges $3 a paper after the first free copy.
However, a police report written by Detective Lisa Kidwell of the UMassPolice Department seems to contradict what DeFlumeri saw and what was capturedon film.
Kidwell’s report says: “I asked SNOW to return the papers to(Ed) CUTTING. SNOW did return the majority of the papers to CUTTING. SNOW keptapproximately 20 papers for herself and to give to friends. This was discussedand agreed upon by both CUTTING and SNOW.”
Kidwell could not be reached for comment.
In response, DeFlumeri says the videotape clearly shows Ed Cutting, adoctoral student at UMass Amherst and authorized distributor of the paper, neveragreed the students could take copies of the Minuteman.
“Ms. Snow, as clearly indicated by the videotape, is guilty of thecrime of theft for having ripped the newspapers out of the arms of(Cutting),” DeFlumeri said.
Cutting said in his opinion, Kidwell’s report is “a work ofcreative fiction.” He said not only did he and Snow fail to reach anagreement, she “lunged” at him to pull the papers from his arms,shouting, “Well, I will help distribute them.”
Cutting said he became involved the day of the theft after DeFlumeri andanother undergraduate student told him Snow had taken the papers and would notgive them back. Eventually, according to Cutting, other witnesses and the videorecording, the papers were physically taken from his arms.
“When she subsequently refused to give back the rest of the stack, Itold her that if she didn’t, I would be forced to call the police, which Idid,” Cutting said. “And when the police didn’t do anything, Icalled FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education).”
FIRE sent a letter to UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub in responseto the theft and a subsequent SGA resolution that threatened to suspend TheSilent Majority if they did not apologize for the criticism of Snow. Theuniversity later struck down the resolution.
“UMass Amherst must take this theft seriously and appropriatelyinvestigate and punish the thieves,” the letter said.
According to Ed Blaguszewski, the executive director of news and mediarelations at UMass Amherst, police did not make an arrest or file a criminalcomplaint.
“The UMass Amherst Police concluded that no crime was committed inthis matter,” Blaguszewski said in an e-mail.
DeFlumeri said the staff finds UMass Amherst’s reluctance to take thetheft seriously troubling.
“Our University has made explicitly clear to us that, despite theirlegally binding duty to protect the constitutional rights of students … ourrights are — inexplicably — expendable in the face of boisterouspolitical opposition,” he said.
DeFlumeri said the staff has made some changes since the theft.
“We’ve reorganized our distribution team and processes toensure maximum protection from theft and excessive malicious public destructionof the paper and to ensure optimal readership of the paper,” DeFlumerisaid.