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UF editors claim student government official dumped newspapers on eve of election

February 22, 2012

FLORIDA — In a spat of he-said, she-said between student politicians and a student newspaper at the University of Florida, one thing is certain — 268 unread copies of The Independent Florida Alligator were found discarded in a trash bin the day before student government elections.

The Alligator claimed two students saw Jason Tiemeier, Student Senate president pro tempore, discarding the newspapers in a classroom building Monday morning. An anonymous source from the campus’ Unite Party, of which Tiemeier is a member, allegedly confirmed the eyewitness accounts.

Tiemeier said he was sleeping when the theft occurred.

Alligator Editor-in-Chief Joey Flechas insists the story is accurate, but Unite Party spokeswoman Christina Bonarrigo claims otherwise.

“These allegations are baseless, and they also lack journalistic integrity,” Bonarrigo said. “There is zero substantial evidence in this matter.”

She accused the paper of completely fabricating the story. She said the media talks to nobody but her, so an anonymous source from her party does not add up.

Flechas said staff discovered the discarded newspapers in a trash bin in exactly the way described by two witnesses, who also said they saw Tiemeier do it.

“To say that it’s completely fabricated,” Flechas said, “would indicate that newspapers did not find themselves in a trash can — which they did.”

The day of the alleged theft, the Alligator ran a front-page story on head coach Will Muschamp’s public endorsement of fullback Jesse Schmidt’s candidacy for vice president of student government. Schmidt is a member of UF’s Students Party, which opposes the Unite Party.

Bonarrigo could think of no reason why the Alligator would lie about the theft. Nonetheless, she said the paper is misleading students during elections and that the Unite Party has no involvement in the alleged theft whatsoever.

Bonarrigo claims she spoke with an eyewitness, and that the description of the alleged thief does not match Tiemeier’s appearance. However, Flechas claimed the eyewitnesses identified Tiemeier in a photograph. It is not clear if Bonarrigo spoke with the same witnesses mentioned in the Alligator story.

Witnesses could not be reached for comment.

Campus police Capt. Jeff Holcomb said the Alligator did not file a police report on the incident. If one was filed and a suspect was caught, he said, university judicial affairs would likely handle the problem.

Flechas said the Alligator received mixed messages on whether they could file a police report at all, as the campus police have never before dealt with newspaper theft as crime. He said the staff was also busy with election coverage.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said newspaper theft is most certainly a crime.

“Whether the cops think the paper was paid for is irrelevant to whether it can be stolen. It’s whether it has value,” Goldstein said. “Clearly, a lot of money went into printing it… So to let someone walk in and destroy it would be illegal.”

Holcomb said campus police will not get involved until a report is filed.

By Nick Glunt, SPLC staff writer

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© 2012 Student Press Law Center

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