Covington Catholic student sues Washington Post for $250 million

Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky., and others students from the school stand in front of Native American Nathan Phillips near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in this still image from video Jan. 18, 2019. Sandmann filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit Feb. 19 against The Washington Post claiming the newspaper's coverage of the incident was biased. (CNS photo/Kaya Taitano, social media via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic high school student at the center of an encounter with a Native American tribal leader in Washington filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit Feb. 19 against The Washington Post claiming the newspaper's coverage of the incident was biased.

The 38-page suit claims there were "no less than six false and defamatory articles" in the newspaper about the Jan. 18 encounter at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, which went viral almost immediately.


It also claims the newspaper "ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president."

"The Post proved itself to be a loud and aggressive bully with a bully pulpit," the lawsuit says.

Nick Sandmann, a junior at Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School, is known now for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat while smiling just inches away from the Native American leader, Nathan Phillips, who faced him as he chanted and beat a drum.

The teen is represented by Todd McMurtry of the Covington-based law firm Hemmer Defrank Wessels and by L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta attorney involved in high-profile defamation suits.

The suit is posted on the firm's website following an introduction that says the compensatory and punitive damages are for the "harm so many have done to the Sandmann family."

"This is only the beginning," it adds, alluding to other potential lawsuits.

In late January, Sandmann's legal team sent more than 50 letters to media outlets, individual journalists, celebrities, and Catholic dioceses and archdioceses warning of possible legal action for coverage of the incident.

Sandmann's attorneys said in a Jan. 25 statement that members of the media and others "rushed to condemn and vilify this young man by burying him in an avalanche of false accusations, false portrayals and cyberbullying that have threatened his reputation and his physical safety."

The lawsuit echoes this initial statement, specifically zeroing in on the Washington newspaper, stating: "In a span of three days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary-school child."

The complaint is seeking $250 million because Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, paid that amount for The Washington Post when he bought it six years ago.

The complaint is seeking $250 million because Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, paid that amount for the newspaper when he bought it six years ago.

Trump took to Twitter Feb. 20 to comment on the lawsuit saying: "Go get them Nick. Fake News!"

According to The Washington Post, the newspaper's spokeswoman, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said: "We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense."

Sandmann's attorneys said the Post "did not conduct a proper investigation before publishing its false and defamatory statements of and concerning Nicholas.”

They also accused the Post of ignoring online videos that provided more details about the incident in question and said reporters used "unreliable and biased sources" and acted with "knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth."

The lawsuit goes through every detail of the now-famous incident that took place Jan. 18 when the students who had attended the March for Life were waiting for their buses.

On Jan. 19, clips from a video that went viral almost immediately, showed these students surrounding Phillips while appearing to be mocking him. The clip caused immediate outrage, particularly on social media. But by the next day, extended footage of how the situation unfolded revealed that another group at the had taunted the students and some responded back. Phillips had walked over to the students and the group, as an intervention.

After the initial video went viral, Sandmann said in a statement that he had "received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults."

Sandmann's school and the Diocese of Covington initially condemned the students' behavior but then backed down as more information came forth and they called for a third-party investigation into the situation.

The conclusion of that report, released by the Covington Diocese Feb. 13, found no evidence that the students had issued "offensive or racist statements" that had been accused of doing.

In a letter to parents of Covington Catholic High School, Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington said his hope that the investigation would "exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives has been realized."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
2 months 4 weeks ago

Thank you, President Trump, for encouraging this young man to defend himself. In Canon Law, Canon 220 explicitly states a person has a right to his good name. Go get 'em, Mr. Sandmann. And don't forget the church leadership who failed you and your classmates. Go after dioceses and the bishops who criticized you for what they perceived to be your behavior and for excercising your 1st Amendment rights by wearing the MAGA hat. Evidently, even the church only learns when it pays, and pays, and pays again.

arthur mccaffrey
2 months 4 weeks ago

yes indeed--go get 'em young Mr Sandman. This article fails to mention that this magazine America was also one of the media that published the unvetted and unsupported initial reports on social media which attacked young Sandman--maybe they are now scared that they might be also sued by the family's lawyers. This article and this mag in general have not given enough prominence to the two independent investigations by the Covington Inquiry and the article in Atlantic magazine which debunked the initial hysteria and rush to judgement. This young man has his life ahead of him, and I hope some good college will be glad to have him as an undergraduate. Maybe America could do the christian thing and start a fund for slandered students like him?

Terry Kane
2 months 4 weeks ago

I wonder what the following posters have to say now about the unfortunate Covington Catholic School students. Will they act just like the media do and pretend that they did nothing wrong?
What say YOU:
J Brookbank? Stanley Kopacz?
Ellen B? Marie Almada?
Claire Brainard? Philip Fabiano?
Maryanne Braverman? Robert Lewis?
lisa connolley? Maggie Frost?
rose-ellen caminer? Adeolu Ademoyo?
Baron Corvo? Beth Cioffoletti?
Mark Chandler? Mike Macrie?
Carla Eble? A Grady?
Todd Witherell? Vincent Gaglione?

Do I hear crickets?

Beth Cioffoletti
2 months 3 weeks ago

Seems this is how things work for white boys. After getting their names professionally cleared, they now think that a lawsuit is the most appropriate action. I continue to be appalled by this story. I guess I expected more from a Catholic school community.

John Butler
2 months 3 weeks ago

White boys? Nice....nice

John Butler
2 months 3 weeks ago

White boys? Nice....nice

Beth Cioffoletti
2 months 3 weeks ago

Seems this is how things work for white boys. After getting their names professionally cleared, they now think that a lawsuit is the most appropriate action. I continue to be appalled by this story. I guess I expected more from a Catholic school community.

Terry Kane
2 months 3 weeks ago

Not sure what your post means. However, you were very clear last month:

J Brookbank1 month ago
It was only a matter of time before another group of smug white teenage boys from an elite Catholic school exposed themselves --- and the self-promoting myths the Church, adults and kids tell ----- in this way.

If these racist thugs hadn't been caught on camera, "March for Life 2019" would have been front and center on their college applications... and on the carefully curated high school calendars they trot out decades later when someone remembers their thuggishness.

"No I didn't humiliate a United States Veteran and Native American elder on January 20, 2019! I was with PJ and Tobin and Squee and Mark at the March for Life!"

This incident also exposes a problem with the ProLife narrative about the March as proof that youth are passionate about stopping abortion and participate in the March prayerfully, full of the Holy Spirit, driven by love of all God's creation.

No. This is every American school kid's dream: a long, rowdy, poorly supervised, parent/school subsidized, overnight roadtrip to DC on a school day.

THAT explains the crowds of youth. And every honest school administrator, teacher and priest knows it.

Groups of adolescents showing off for each other is nothing new. It is expected. Groups of teenagers turning into a mob? It's regularly encouraged by adults as "school spirit" and acceptance-hungry kids are UP for it. It is expected.

THESE kids are racist.

In the year 2019, kids who are NOT racist would have walked away.

In the year 2019, non-racist kids would have hauled that smirking thug away by the jacket.

In the year 2019, non-racist kids would have told him to stop.

In the year 2019, non-racist kids would have put themselves between him and the United States Veteran, Citizen and Native American elder and walked that thug back and away.

Kids who were truly pro-life and not just on a parent/school-funded roadtrip; prayerfully passionate kids; kids who believed what they were chanting at the March for Life ------- THOSE kids would have chosen life and, thus, they would have allied themselvrs with that United States Veteran and Native American Elder.

But THESE kids acted like thugs.

A shame. The March would have looked so good on their applications to Georgetown and Harvard. Right, Squee?

Beth Cioffoletti 1 month ago
Well said J Brookbank.

Are you appalled that those white boys from a Catholic school community might think a lawsuit against you might be the most appropriate action?

Grace Seitzer
2 months 4 weeks ago

We may be missing a significant part of this story: Why were those teen-age boys participating in a political rally i n the first place, especially in today's volatile climate? I question the judgement of whoever authorized this. It is another example of the abuse of minors: using these boys to swell the apparent support for an issue of concern to the adults involved. Anyone with experience in dealing with high-school students should have known better. This is not education; it is exploitation.

Terry Kane
2 months 4 weeks ago

It is odd that you consider the March for LIFE to be a "political rally ." Isn't that a religious issue? Catholics usually consider life to be a matter of "life and death."
Do you believe that standing for life is exploitation and abuse?
How much experience in dealing with high-school students have you had?
Are you a Christian?


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