Libel, harassment charges dropped

Colorado teen faced prosecution because of underground paper

COLORADO – A 15-year-old high school student zapped with charges of criminal libel and harassment by school administrators for his production of an underground newspaper had both allegations dropped.

The student had the accusations brought against him for his alleged role in writing an anonymous underground newspaper that contained satire directed against school administrators in Fort Collins.

The Colorado American Civil Liberties Union contested that prosecutors had incorrectly enforced a criminal libel statute that makes it a felony to publish statements “tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or expose the natural defects of one who is alive.”

The court agreed. According to an ACLU press release, the judge threw out the case in July because the school administrators are public officials and because the writing was satirical in nature.

One article implied that a school administrator was a lesbian who had an affair with Princess Diana, while another accused 95 percent of the teachers at the student’s school of being illegal drug dealers. The paper also included accusations that some school officials were members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Writing an underground newspaper should not be grounds for sticking a 15-year-old with a felony record,” said Greeley criminal defense attorney Todd Taylor, who participated on the ACLU defense team in an ACLU press release. “This prosecution was overkill from the beginning.”

After the ACLU announced the court dropped the libel charges against the student, a second charge, this time of harassment, was brought against him in September. However, the prosecutor dropped the charge after the ACLU filed an entry of appearance.

“Although we are pleased that our client is no longer threatened with criminal prosecution, we are disappointed that the criminal libel statute remains on the books as a potential threat to the right of free expression,” Colorado ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said.

reports, Winter 1998-99