ACLU director "baffled" by law enforcement's response to Rogers tweeting scandal

Sagehorn, a three-sport athlete and honors student, has reportedly transferred schools instead of serving out his more than two month suspension.
Sagehorn, a three-sport athlete and honors student, has reportedly transferred schools instead of serving out his more than two month suspension.

Last week, Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen said suspended Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn could potentially face a felony charge for his now-infamous two-word tweet about making out with a young gym teacher.

Hennepin County authorities announced Friday that Sagehorn won't be charged with any crimes in connection with the incident, but according to Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota ACLU, such an announcement shouldn't have been necessary in the first place, as there is no felony charge for doing something along the lines of what Sagehorn did.

"Criminal defamation is a gross misdemeanor, so I have no idea what [Chief Beahen] was talking about," Samuelson said. "The only thing they could've possibly charged him with is criminal defamation, and we believe that's an unconstitutional ordinance."

But Sagehorn -- or, more accurately, his parents, since he's only 17 -- could face a defamation lawsuit.

"He can be sued civilly by the teacher, and there may be other people that the teacher could sue," Samuelson said. "If she won she'd get money damages because [Sagehorn] uttered a knowingly false statement that you could argue caused injury to her reputation."

While Samuelson and his ACLU colleagues were "baffled" by Chief Beahen's comments regarding the possibly felony charge, he acknowledged opinions in his office are split with regard to how the school handled the situation.

"Some of us think the school should've dismissed this allegation because of where it came from [that is, a sarcastic social media post] and not ruled it as credible, and others say that anytime something like this happens [the school] has to report it because if it's true, it would've been criminal sexual conduct and they're mandatory reporters," he said.

"The trouble is, frankly, it's hard to do sarcasm on Twitter," Samuelson continued.

Along those lines, Samuelson said Sagehorn's story, if nothing else, clearly illustrates the dangers of reckless social media behavior.

(For more, click to page two.)

"The standard rule I was always taught is that you should never say anything you would be ashamed to read about on the front of your local newspaper, and the same standard should apply to Twitter and Facebook and all other social media," Samuelson said. "Just because you can send these texts, tweets, and Facebook posts doesn't mean you should."

"Anything you put online lives forever, so it's not like a phone call or face-to-face conversation," he continued. "The minute you text it or do it over the internet it's public and it's public forever and you can't take it back."

Asked about why he thinks Minnesota's criminal defamation statute is unconstitutional, Samuelson said, "It's very broad, and very vague, and those are two reasons to throw out something as a law."

"The facts in this case, frankly, are not good facts for [prosecutors], and this is a middle-class kid which means he has resources and it's going to be a tough fight," he continued.

With regard to what would've constituted criminal defamation, Samuelson said, "Maybe if the guy had said more than two words, maybe if he had a history of doing stuff like this... But if your aunt had balls she'd be your uncle. There's a lot of 'ifs.'"

Sagehorn, meanwhile, has three attorneys representing him and has decided to transfer to a new, undisclosed school as of today, according to a Star Tribune report.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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