Va. university won't press charges after newspapers stolen

VIRGINIA — Adisgruntled Christopher Newport University student allegedly resorted tonewspaper theft, confronting and informing a staff member about the theft onher way to the racks and boasting about it on Facebook.

Emily Cole, editor in chief of the Captain’s Log at the university in Newport News, Va., recounted theSept. 28 incident when student Ashley Starks confronted one of her staffmembers.

“She approached my news editor, Cory Mitchell, who alsowrote the story, and berated her for the story, saying she was upset.” Colesaid. “She told my news editor that she was on her way to several buildings tothrow away newspapers.”

Starks reportedly objected to a story about police officerTimothy Nix, who was arrested in July on charges of fraud and forgery.Cole said Starks knew Nix through the police department where she worked as apolice aide.

Starks then posted a status on her Facebook profile statingshe had thrown away more than 700 copies of the Captain’s Log. Cole and her business manager determined the valueof the papers to be about $300.

“I emailed the dean of students and chief of police, and Isaid I don’t want to ruin this student’s life with a felony conviction,” Colesaid. “I just want compensation for papers she threw out and essentially stole.”

Starks could not be reached for comment.

On the dean and police’s advice, Cole filed a report throughthe campus police Oct. 4 and was told the case could be treated criminally orthrough the school’s judicial system in the Center for Honor Enrichment andCommunity Standards.

CNU police officer Brandon Austin informed Cole on Thursdaythat the investigation had been closed and moved to CHECS for furtherdisciplinary action. The police crime log cites the incident as two misdemeanorcrimes: larceny and destruction of property.

CNU police did not respond to a request for comment. A universityspokesman confirmed the allegation but said the school does not comment ondisciplinary matters.

Since the newspaper receives a majority of its fundingthrough student activity fees, police told Cole that the victim of the theft isconsidered the university itself, rather than student editors. Austin told Colethe university declined to press criminal charges and asked that the issue behandled through the campus judicial system.

However, Frank LoMonte, executive director of the StudentPress Law Center, said the university should change its stance.

“The newspaper has been victimized and the victimizationtangibly includes potential lost advertising revenues, but intangibly includesthe ability to reach the audience,” he said. “That’s an injury to thejournalists and not nearly as much to the school.”

LoMonte said the editors still have the ability to bring acivil lawsuit against Starks if they choose to do so.

Captain’s Logadviser Terry Lee said advertising revenue covers staff stipends and sometravel expenses but printing and distribution costs are traceable back tostudent fees. That doesn’t rule out a formal apology, which he said is what thepaper has been pushing from the beginning.

“I think it’s just a case where students are doing theirjobs as journalists and feel like this is a case where they should berecognized for having been wronged,” Lee said.

With the case closed and moved to judicial affairs, Cole isunsure where that leaves the possibility for compensation — financial or otherwise.

“Right now I’m not really satisfied the fact that they justclosed the case,” Cole said, adding she plans to talk with the dean and followup with CHECS as her next move.

“I think people need to be aware of the fact that takingnewspapers and throwing them away is a crime,” Cole said. “There’s always otheroptions. You can always write a letter to the editor. She could have donesomething else instead of throwing away our hard work.”