OHIO — A campus police officer has been fired after being caught on tape trashing issues of The Chimes student newspaper at Capital University, a private university just outside of Columbus.
Surveillance footage showed Capital Public Safety Officer Ryan George removing a stack of the Oct. 24 issue of the Chimes from a newsstand outside a dorm.
The issue’s cover story detailed the arrest of Jamie Casto, a ranking officer with Capital Public Safety, the university’s private police force. Casto was arrested a month prior in the next county over from Capital’s campus.
Police alleged he was driving drunk when he hit another vehicle. He was charged with Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI) and Failure to Control his vehicle.
The Chimes’ Editor-in-Chief Heather Barr reported and published the story, acting on a tip from a reader. Casto was still a university employee at the time; he plead not guilty to the charges.
The print edition featuring the story hit stands early on Oct. 24. The next morning, the Chimes’ distribution manager Emily Dietz noticed five of the Chimes’ 11 newsstands were completely empty.
Barr said she went to the empty newsstands, checked the nearby recycling and trash cans, and found entire stacks of newspapers in them. The Chimes estimated over 700 of the 1,500 total copies were trashed or missing.
It costs the Chimes around $300 to print 1,500 issues each week.
Barr said she wasn’t sure where to turn. She read on the Student Press Law Center’s website that stealing student newspapers is a crime, but she was still hesitant to contact campus police since she had a hunch this was related to the cover story.
The SPLC regularly tracks newspaper thefts, and this is the 10th reported incident in 2019. More than 8,000 student newspapers have been trashed or stolen so far this year.
Capital’s Police Chief Frank Fernandez actually contacted Barr first.The Chimes published a story on the trashed papers and drew the department’s attention.
Fernandez told her to file a report and said he would look over any surveillance footage that might have captured somebody trashing the papers.
About a week later, Fernandez reached back out and said they had found the person responsible for stealing from at least one stand.
“We got word from him that it had not been the officer that was on the front page, but another officer that had done it,” she said. “He was caught on video in two places, they couldn’t really connect him to the others.”
George was spotted near another stand, but he was not seen taking papers from it. The officer was fired for stealing the Chimes’ newspapers.
It felt like people were saying that our work was trash
Fernandez apologized to Barr, and said both Casto and George regretted what happened.
“On behalf of the police department, I’m sorry that this even happened,” Fernandez told the Chimes. “ … We’re going to be working harder now to rebuild that trust from our community and the relationships with all the groups and individuals that we serve.”
SPLC Staff Attorney Sommer Ingram Dean said you should always report a newspaper theft to police, even if you find yourself in a similar situation to Barr’s.
“Students should file a formal police report and notify school officials of the theft. If there are any concerns about how law enforcement or campus officials will respond, don’t hesitate to contact the legal team at the Student Press Law Center,” she said. “Along with potential violations of the First Amendment, perpetrators of newspaper theft can face criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits or campus disciplinary action.”
Barr said she was happy that Fernandez continued his long-time transparency with the Chimes.
“We have a really good relationship with Chief Fernandez. I’m a senior now and I’ve worked with him every year,” Barr said. “He said this does not represent us or the university and I was just really grateful for how he reacted.”
Barr, in her second year as editor-in-chief, said this is the first instance of newspaper theft since she’s been on campus.
The situation was resolved with minimal difficulties, but Barr was still frustrated that over half of the copies of the Oct. 24 issue ended up in the garbage. The Chimes has 15 students on its staff, and having to worry about papers ending up in the garbage should be the least of their worries, she said.
“I know how hard we work as a team on the paper every week, especially with this story because it was so important,” she said. “It felt like people were saying that our work was trash.”
Barr said there were no plans to reprint the issue, and no advertisers asked to have their ads run again in a future edition.
She said she’s especially thankful for the way the incident was handled by police after reading about recent newspaper thefts that have not been resolved. At Radford University, almost the exact opposite situation is occurring: campus police caught a Radford employee stealing copies of the student newspaper, but are declining to name them.
it’s great what our university did, but I also want that to be the case at every university where this happens, and I know that’s not how it is.
“The reason I think it’s important to tell this story; [it’s] kind of a success story in a way. It’s not like this for a lot of other student newspapers,” Barr said. “A lot of times they don’t get answers.”
“I think it’s great what our university did,” she added, “but I also want that to be the case at every university where this happens, and I know that’s not how it is.”
SPLC reporter Joe Severino can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @jj_severino
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