AP NEWS

Judge reopens portion of Kentucky teen’s defamation suit

October 29, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge in Kentucky is reopening a portion of a lawsuit that accused the Washington Post of defamatory statements in its coverage of a Kentucky teen’s encounter with a Native American man at the Lincoln Memorial.

U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman in July dismissed the lawsuit brought by Nicholas Sandmann seeking $250 million from the newspaper. Sandmann accused the Post of “targeting and bullying” in its articles about the Jan. 18 encounter. Video widely shared online showed Sandmann and Nathan Phillips standing close to each other, with Sandmann staring and at times smiling at Phillips as Phillips beat on a drum.

Bertelsman wrote in an order Monday that he would allow further review of statements published by the newspaper of Phillips alleging he was “blocked” by Sandmann and Sandmann “would not allow him to retreat.”

Bertelsman wrote that after careful review he decided ”‘justice requires’ that discovery be had regarding these statements and their context.” The decision means lawyers for Sandmann will be allowed to request information and documents from the newspaper.

Among the published statements that Bertelsman ruled required further review was a quote from Phillips saying Sandmann “just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

Both Sandmann and Phillips say they were trying to defuse tensions rising among three groups on a day when Washington hosted both the anti-abortion March for Life, attended by Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High School classmates, and the Indigenous Peoples March.

Sandmann’s attorney, Todd McMurtry, called the decision a “huge win” Monday in a post on Twitter. “Now Nick Sandmann will be able to start discovery and find out exactly what the reporters were thinking when they attacked Nicholas and the Covington Catholic kids.”

In Sandmann’s lawsuit against the Post, his attorneys highlighted seven articles and three Twitter social media posts they considered defamatory to Sandmann.

Judge Bertelsman said in his ruling dismissing the lawsuit in July that he accepted Sandmann’s contention that “when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation ...”

But he noted that Phillips asserted he was being blocked from passing, and Phillips’ opinion was reported by the newspaper.

“They may have been erroneous ... but they are opinion protected by The First Amendment,” Bertelsman wrote.

The attorneys for Sandmann also filed suit against CNN and NBC and have threatened to sue numerous other news organizations, including The Associated Press.