Late-night police pursuit costs Georgetown magazine its newsroom

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A trail of discarded printer boxes, old newspapers and awell-worn refrigerator leads from the hallway into the The Georgetown Voice newsroom, whose bare walls are just the mostvisible signs of something unusual.

The weekly newsmagazine will be forced to vacate this officein Georgetown University’s Leavey Center sometime in the next two weeks andmove into a significantly smaller space just down the hall, a response to abizarre incident involving Voice reporters,police officers and an ill-conceived escape plan.

Three students were investigating a university report ofdamage caused by Hurricane Irene at about 1 a.m. on Aug. 28 when they were told to leave byDepartment of Public Safety officers who said the area was unsafe.

Instead, the trio fled to The Voice’s fourth-floor office, locked the door and decided toevade officers by breaking through the ceiling panels and crawling intoadjacent offices, university spokeswoman Rachel Pugh said via email.

The action damaged ceiling tiles in the Voice office as well as adjoining rooms, and the students werecharged with destruction of property less than $1,000, according to reports in The Hoya newspaper.

Two of the students, Sam Buckley and John Flanagan, werecurrently on staff. The third, Eric Pilch, was a former staffer. The threeentered into deferred prosecution agreements to prevent a trial. The studentsare on a four-month probationary period that culminates in a Jan. 25 courtappearance, according to court documents.

“I was understandably shocked,” said Voice Editor-in-Chief Tim Shine. “I couldn’t understand what theywere thinking.”

In the aftermath, the editorial board voted to impeach andremove the staffers from their positions, Shine said.

The Center for Student Programs then added its own sanctionson the publication. The Voice hadviolated the student organization office space use agreement, which it signseach year, and had forfeited its current location as a result, Pugh said.

Fourteen student organizations have dedicated space in theLeavey Center, Pugh said.

The punishment does not impinge on the paper’s right topublish, according to the university.

The Voicecontinues to have exclusive access to a different office space and is notprevented from existing as a student news organization on campus,” Pugh said.

Erika Cohen Derr, director of Student Programs and The Voice’s adviser, deferred comment onthe situation to Pugh.

Shine said he talked with university officials and appealedthe punishment. But that process has finished, and he and his staff must nowfit all newsroom contents and personnel into a space roughly half the size ofthe current room — and one without separate offices for the editor and businessstaff, he said.

The paper hits stands every Thursday. On Wednesdayproduction nights, around 25 to 30 editors and writers occupy the newsroom,Shine said. He said his main concern with the new office is having room fordiscussion among staff and privacy for editorial decisions.

“Everyone’s going to be shoulder to shoulder,” Shine said.

Several Voicealumni have shown support, Shine said. In a column in The Hoya, Chris Heller, former news and blog editor, warned thatthe university was “going after a blemish with a claw hammer” by punishing thepaper for the actions of a few students.

The staff members were representatives of the paper, Shinesaid, and he knew there would be ramifications.

But the eviction from their office will hurt the staff’sability to produce a quality paper and continue to recruit large numbers ofstudents, he said.

“But in the short term, we’ll still be able to put out apaper,” Shine said.

Affected neighboring organizations — the Debate Team and The Hoya newspaper — also have theoption of filing formal complaints, but it seems unlikely they will pursue thataction, Shine said.

The Voice will beallowed to request new or different space through the Media Board in April aspart of the annual budget request process, Pugh said.

Pilch declined to comment. The two other students involved in the incident did not respond to requests for comment.