- Students who were suspended over racist messages they sent in a Snapchat group are suing the school for violating their free speech.
- The lawsuit claims that because the messages were made in private, on personal phones, and not on school grounds, the school does not have the authority to discipline the students.
- The suit opens up a debate about free speech, digital speech, and the power of public schools to punish students.
Student File Lawsuit
Four students suspended after making racist remarks in a Snapchat group filed a lawsuit against the Saline Michigan School District Tuesday, alleging that their free speech rights were violated.
The lawsuit argues that public school officials did not have the power to discipline the students because the remarks were made in private, on the student’s personal phones, and on a Sunday when the students were not on school grounds.
“Defendants acted outside the scope of their authority and violated Plaintiffs’ rights by suspending all four of them and recommending the expulsion of two of them for the expression contained in the text messages,” it says.
Both white and African American students used offensive remarks, the lawyers said, including “terms like the ‘N’ word and various abbreviations of that word, ‘white power,’ and ‘the South will rise again,’” in addition to “inappropriate ‘memes’ or pictures.”
“One of the African-American children jokingly suggested that everyone on the chat say the ‘N’ word at the same time to stop racism and many of the children did so,” they added.
After that, a number of African American students left the group. Another African American teenager later joined the chat, recorded a video of the racist messages, and publicly posted them.
The lawsuit notes that when a person leaves a Snapchat group everything they share is erased. It claims that the teen who joined later did not see the full context of the messages, and argues that the initial students in chat understood that it was “in the context of immature banter between friends and in a joking manner.”
The students never intended to make the conversation public, the plaintiffs claim.
On Jan. 27, the school suspended the four students who later filed the lawsuit, also recommending expulsion for two of them.
The students also allege that they were suspended without being given written notice of their rights to due process. They are seeking damages and asking that their disciplinary records be cleared.
Free Speech Debate
In a statement Tuesday, the students’ lawyer, David Kallman, argued that it is the parent and not the school who should discipline them for such behavior.
“This case boils down to a simple question: When a child misbehaves at home, who disciplines — the local public school or the parent?” he said. “If a child gets stopped for drunk driving on a Saturday night, does the school have the right to expel that student? The answer is obvious. No.”
“The conversation of these children had nothing to do with the school. It has no authority to discipline students for out of school misbehavior,” he added.
With this case, there is also a question of digital privacy.
“Schools generally will happily let families referee off-campus disputes when it’s verbal. When it’s digitally memorialized, it somehow makes schools feel they are duty-bound to react,” media law professor Frank LoMonte told the Washington Post.
In general, LoMonte said, courts have ruled public schools can discipline students only for offensive remarks made at official events or using school equipment.
For example, in 2017, a cheerleader was disciplined over private messages she sent on the weekend using expletives about her coaches. A rights group filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ruled that the cheerleader’s messages were protected speech.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, it is likely to stoke further divides in the small town.
The messages have provoked controversy since they were first brought to the public attention on Jan. 27 when Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden wrote a letter to parents denouncing “offensive and inappropriate racist comments” that were posted on social media by students at the local high school.
The district held a community meeting to talk about racism, which ended up making national headlines after a Latino father named Adrian Iraola described racism his now-grown children had experienced.
“When I went to his bedroom to say good night, and he was crying because of the abuse that he was enduring in this school system,” Iraola said.
“So why didn’t you stay in Mexico?” a white community-member responded, prompting gasps from the room.
That interaction produced both a viral video, even more tense community meetings, and an anti-racist rally that reportedly brought in more than 200 people.
With the new lawsuit, the tensions are unlikely to die down any time soon.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Detroit Free Press) (Ann Arbor News)
Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini
- A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
- Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
- After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.
Hines Defrauds Government
A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.
David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.
The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.
According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.
“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.
Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds
Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.
Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.
In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini
See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)
Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March
- A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
- Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
- In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
- No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.
Judge Cahill Postpones Trial
The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.
Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.
The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.
All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.
In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.
“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.
A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.
The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.
The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.
For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.
Uncertainty Around Sentencing
Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.
“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.
Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.
Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.
In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated
- Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program.
- Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
- Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery
Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.
DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.
The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.
Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.
DeWine Defends Lottery
Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”
DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally.
Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April.