Student editors: Police report of theft opposes witnesses, video

MASSACHUSETTS -- Students at an independent publication at University of Massachusetts at Amherst are disappointed after a detective's police report detailing the theft of their paper in April contradicts witnesses and video footage of the crime.

On April 1, 2009, Student Government Association officer Vanessa Snow and several other students stole about 200 out of 6,000 copies of the Minuteman, according to Managing Editor Brad DeFlumeri and a video recorded by another student. The stolen copies of the Minuteman, a paper published by conservative student group the Silent Majority, contained criticism about the financial practices of Snow, the director of the UMass group Student Bridges. The criticism included a personal attack on Snow.

Snow did not return multiple e-mails.

The stolen papers were worth approximately $600, because the Minuteman charges $3 a paper after the first free copy.

However, a police report written by Detective Lisa Kidwell of the UMass Police Department seems to contradict what DeFlumeri saw and what was captured on film.

Kidwell's report says: "I asked SNOW to return the papers to (Ed) CUTTING. SNOW did return the majority of the papers to CUTTING. SNOW kept approximately 20 papers for herself and to give to friends. This was discussed and agreed upon by both CUTTING and SNOW."

Kidwell could not be reached for comment.

In response, DeFlumeri says the videotape clearly shows Ed Cutting, a doctoral student at UMass Amherst and authorized distributor of the paper, never agreed the students could take copies of the Minuteman.

"Ms. Snow, as clearly indicated by the videotape, is guilty of the crime of theft for having ripped the newspapers out of the arms of (Cutting)," DeFlumeri said.

Cutting said in his opinion, Kidwell's report is "a work of creative fiction." He said not only did he and Snow fail to reach an agreement, she "lunged" at him to pull the papers from his arms, shouting, "Well, I will help distribute them."

Cutting said he became involved the day of the theft after DeFlumeri and another undergraduate student told him Snow had taken the papers and would not give them back. Eventually, according to Cutting, other witnesses and the video recording, the papers were physically taken from his arms.

"When she subsequently refused to give back the rest of the stack, I told her that if she didn't, I would be forced to call the police, which I did," Cutting said. "And when the police didn't do anything, I called FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)."

FIRE sent a letter to UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub in response to the theft and a subsequent SGA resolution that threatened to suspend The Silent Majority if they did not apologize for the criticism of Snow. The university later struck down the resolution.

"UMass Amherst must take this theft seriously and appropriately investigate and punish the thieves," the letter said.

According to Ed Blaguszewski, the executive director of news and media relations at UMass Amherst, police did not make an arrest or file a criminal complaint.

"The UMass Amherst Police concluded that no crime was committed in this matter," Blaguszewski said in an e-mail.

DeFlumeri said the staff finds UMass Amherst's reluctance to take the theft seriously troubling.

"Our University has made explicitly clear to us that, despite their legally binding duty to protect the constitutional rights of students ... our rights are -- inexplicably -- expendable in the face of boisterous political opposition," he said.

DeFlumeri said the staff has made some changes since the theft.

"We've reorganized our distribution team and processes to ensure maximum protection from theft and excessive malicious public destruction of the paper and to ensure optimal readership of the paper," DeFlumeri said.

Minuteman, news, University of Massachusetts at Amherst