Kentucky prosecutor takes action against newspaper theft





KENTUCKY— While many student newspapers around the country have found little solace in local law enforcement when dealing with newspaper thieves, one Kentucky prosecutor has shown that where there’s a theft, there’s a way.

Fayette County Prosecutor Margaret Kannensohn found a case that hit close to her journalism roots when the University of Kentucky student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, fell victim to a theft of 11,000 copies of one issue last year.

Kannensohn was a former copy editor for the campus newspaper during her years at Auburn University and took on the case after the advertising manager of the Kernel filed a complaint.

“To me that was unholy,” Kannensohn said about the thefts. “But [the newspaper] walked into the arms of a prosecutor vitally interested in freedom of the press.”

Apparently motivated by racial tension on campus and its coverage in the paper, the thieves left signs at distribution points saying, “No Diversity. No Equality. No Justice. No Kernel.”

Three University of Kentucky students were apprehended for the thefts. The students pleaded guilty in November to third-degree criminal mischief, a charge Kannensohn said was the most plausible under Kentucky law for theft of a free distribution newspaper.

“One possibility was a theft charge, but these are free newspapers, so how do you steal something that’s free?” she said. “Advertisers were severely hurt. There were some monetary aspects, but it still didn’t fit into theft.”

Many law enforcement officials have refused to bring charges after newspaper thefts occur, claiming no crime has been committed.

But Kannensohn said if other states’ laws are anything like Kentucky’s, the offense could be considered a simple matter of vandalism because property was destroyed. She added that legislation specifically targeting newspaper theft should not be necessary in many states.

The three students served community service through the county’s diversion program and have now had the charges dismissed. The program is for first offenders in nonviolent crimes.

“Quite frankly, if it were to happen again the stakes might get a little higher,” she said.

Kannensohn said that while her background in journalism may be the difference between this case and other cases around the country that go without prosecution, others should realize that newspaper theft is definitely a crime.

“I would hope any kind of prosecutor without my background would think the same thing,” she said.


Fall 1997, reports