UW-Milwaukee Campus Newspaper Plans to Sue Former Student Government President for Halloween Theft

During an organized caper earlier this semester dubbed “Operation Boston Tea Party,” a small group of student government members at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee allegedly stole and trashed 800 copies of The UWM Post.

As the Post and the Student Press Law Center report, the group carried out the campus newspaper theft on Halloween– with one participant donning a costume involving a gas mask that he later wore to a party.  Among those implicated in the planning, swiping, and ultimate dumping of the papers: the student government president.  For those scoring at home, that’s one word, two syllables: Uh-oh.

The group’s apparent motivation: retaliation for a Post editorial critical of a poorly-run, sparsely-attended campus event organized by the student government vice president.  The VP has since stepped down amid separate allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment.  Double uh-oh.

Now, the twist.  As the SPLC confirms, Post staffers are currently considering suing the student government president and another student government executive board member allegedly involved in the theft.  They argue that “because they were both acting as representatives of the state, as per Wisconsin State Statute 36.09(5), they should be held accountable under applicable civil rights law.”  (Both the president and the other exec. have since resigned from their positions due to other misconduct allegations.)

Does the paper have a case?  Its legal counsel admits to the SPLC he is unsure. The main area of confusion: When a student government president at a state school commits a crime off-the-clock is he still a government representative or just an asinine undergrad?

In the lawyer’s words, “If a cop is out drinking at a bar and gets in a bar fight with somebody and beats the hell out of them, it doesn’t necessarily give rise to a civil rights action.  He’s on his own time.  Here it’s arguable, I hope, [the student government president] was acting under color of law, but it isn’t necessarily so.”

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