Newspapers stolen from Illinois university after paper reports on student trustee's arrest

ILLINOIS — Unidentified individuals stole copies of the Western Illinois University student newspaper last month following the paper’s story on the arrest of a student trustee member.

More than 1,500 copies of The Western Courier were stolen on Sept. 24 from more than 15 locations. The issue that was stolen included an article about student trustee Jonathan McGee’s August arrest for resisting a police officer and a subsequent board of trustees meeting that McGee did not attend.

McGee was arrested after a police officer saw him outside an apartment with what appeared to be marijuana, according to reports by the Courier. When the officer tried to talk with McGee and the woman he was with, McGee ran away from the officer.

Bill Welt, the Courier’s editor-in-chief, said he reported the theft to police immediately, but had trouble convincing them to investigate.

“I said I’d like to file a complaint, but they didn’t because they didn’t think it was a crime at first,” Welt said.

Welt wrote a column denouncing the theft Sept. 26.

“It’s not only childish, but it’s also a direct attack on the First Amendment,” Welt wrote. “So, to the individual(s) who committed the acts: Disliking or disagreeing with the Courier doesn’t grant anyone the right to toss away the Courier’s newspapers.”

After consulting the Student Press Law Center’s website, Welt and adviser Richard Moreno went back to the police to explain why the thefts were a crime. This time, they convinced police to investigate.

Security camera footage from several campus locations hasn’t yielded any clues. When police looked at the footage, they discovered that majority of the cameras were not functioning at the time of the theft, Welt said. The functioning cameras did not have the newspapers in the shot.

“It’s hard to believe that all those cameras weren’t working,” Welt said. “They don’t have anything, and it looks like the case is dead.”

Moreno said a student claimed to witness some of the thefts, but would not speak with police.

The Courier’s press run is 5,000 copies and costs the paper $3,465. Moreno said the stolen papers cost roughly $1,050, counting printing and labor costs.

Welt and the paper staff decided not to reprint the paper, Moreno said, instead electing to promote the story online instead.

On Oct. 4, McGee stepped down from his position on the Board of Trustees.

This is the 21st newspaper theft of 2012.

By Jordan Bradley, SPLC staff writer. Contact Bradley by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext 124.