University administrators confirmed the chief’s account, including the decision to not name the employee. The Tartan first published news of Underwood’s letter on its website Friday.
“As a result of RUPD’s comprehensive and in-depth process, which included conducting one-on-one interviews and reviewing video footage, a classified staff employee was found to be responsible for taking multiple copies of The Tartan from a total of four newsstands,” Caitlyn Scaggs, associate vice president for university relations, wrote in a statement sent to The Washington Post.
Scaggs said that the employee has been disciplined and that “no additional information will be provided regarding this matter as it is a personnel issue.”
More than 800 copies of the Sept. 18 edition were removed from 22 distribution boxes on campus just hours after being delivered. In response to additional questions from The Post, Scaggs said the employee who took the papers is not a professor or instructor at Radford, nor a part of the university’s administration. The employee, she said, “disclosed to acting alone and not under the direction of any other individuals.”
According to Scaggs, the employee admitted to removing papers from only the four distribution boxes mentioned in the university police report. There has been no information released about who removed the remainder of the newspapers.
The decision to not name the employee isn’t sitting well with Lepore and the paper’s staff of 20 student journalists.
“We’re pretty angry,” Lepore said in an interview Monday. “It’s not the best course of action on the university’s side. I just want to know the name, and that’s it. What’s the saying, ‘The coverup is worse than the crime’?”
Because the person who removed the papers has not been named, it is unknown why they were taken.
But administrators made clear to Lepore on Sept. 20 that they were concerned with a story and photo that ran on the front page of the issue. The story, about Steve Tibbetts, a professor who died unexpectedly just weeks into his new job at the university, included a photo of Tibbetts and his high-school-age daughter standing under a street sign that said “Tibbetts St. Dead End.” The photo was provided to the paper by Tibbetts’s widow.
Lepore said he was told at the Sept. 20 meeting by administrators — including Susan Trageser, Radford’s vice president for student affairs, and Ashley Schumaker, vice president for university relations — that the photo was “not the best choice” and that the stories could “trigger” people.
In October, Lepore told The Post that when he saw the photograph, he “thought it was sweet — just a really nice photo of Tibbetts and his daughter.”
He said he and his staff are not satisfied with the university’s report on the missing papers and will continue pressing to find out who was responsible and whether that person was acting at the direction of anyone in the administration.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Lepore said. “I’m just trying to make a newspaper. I don’t want to keep making the news section about our newspaper, but this is an important story, and it’s a First Amendment issue.”
Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel with the Student Press Law Center, agrees that the students have a legitimate claim against the school.
“This is a government employee, and he trashed the newspapers because he didn’t want people to read them for whatever reason,” Hiestand said. “If that’s not a First Amendment violation, I don’t know what is.”
Hiestand said it’s also a mistake for the university to say that no crime occurred because the papers are free.
“We always remind universities and police that just because a paper is distributed for free doesn’t mean they are free,” he said. “They are paid for by advertisers and by student activity fees. It’s like a subscription. There is a value to these papers. They are not free.”
Lepore said he and his staff will submit Freedom of Information Act requests to access the video showing the papers being removed and to find out the name of the employee who removed them.
“We didn’t want it to come to this, but we’re excited to do more digging and investigative reporting,” Lepore said. “Radford keeps pushing back, but we’re not stopping, either.”