Nick Sandmann’s lawyers send letters to media: They know they crossed the line

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In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 image made from video provided by the Survival Media Agency, a teenager wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, center left, stands in front of an elderly Native American singing and playing a drum in Washington. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington in Kentucky is looking into this and other videos that show youths, possibly from the diocese’s all-male Covington Catholic High School, mocking Native Americans at a Washington rally. | Survival Media Agency via AP

The lawyers representing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann and his family said Friday they have sent letters to media outlets and Catholic organizations as the first step in possible libel and defamation lawsuits.

The student from the Park Hills, Kentucky, school found himself in the center of a media firestorm after a video showing Nick and his classmates after the March for Life in Washington D.C. went viral.

The videos show Nick in a “Make America Great Again” hat and a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, surrounded by other students while Phillips plays a drum and sings. Phillips said he approached the students to defuse a tense exchange between the students and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.

The first short clip that caught the attention of people on social media prompted calls of racism. That clip was countered by hours of additional footage that came to light in the days after the event.

Nick, as well as his school, faced threats from those angered by the video. His family’s legal counsel Todd McMurtry and experienced libel and defamation lawyer L. Lin Wood of Atlanta have said they will seek justice for the harm allegedly done to the teen.

McMurtry is with the law firm of Hemmer Defrank Wessels and has practiced law in Greater Cincinnati since 1991. He said a team of seven lawyers has been working full time to review the media accounts of what happened.

This week they have prepared documentation preservation letters addressed to organizations they believe may have defamed or libeled Nick with false reporting, McMurtry said.

McMurtry said the following organizations are among those to whom his office is sending letters:

  • The Washington Post
  • The New York Times
  • Cable News Network, Inc. (CNN)
  • The Guardian
  • National Public Radio
  • Heavy, Inc.
  • TMZ
  • Atlantic Media Inc.
  • Capitol Hill Publishing Corp.
  • Diocese of Covington
  • Diocese of Lexington
  • Archdiocese of Louisville
  • Diocese of Baltimore

“They know they crossed the line,” McMurtry said of the media outlets. “Do they want 12 people in Kentucky to decide their fate? I don’t think so.”

The letters tell the organizations not to destroy any documents in connection with the case, the attorney said. For example, these documents could be drafts or early versions of articles or emails among staff discussing the story.

McMurtry said he expects his team to send dozens more letters to other organizations in coming days and weeks.

After the review, the lawyers “concluded we have a good faith basis to sue” certain organizations, McMurtry said. However, he said not all the organizations who were sent letters will necessarily be sued. He added that this process will not be over quickly.

“There are so many deep pocket defendants who crossed the line, the process will just roll out,” he said. “It’s international.”

McMurtry said his clients will also be demanding retractions and apologies in addition to possible litigation.

“We want to change the conversation. We don’t want this to happen again,” McMurtry said. “We want to teach people a lesson.”

He went on to say that lesson is the media cannot state as fact things that aren’t true.

“There was a rush by the media to believe what it wanted to believe versus what actually happened,” McMurtry said.

An example he gave of false reports were ones that said Nick got into the face of Phillips, McMurtry said. McMurtry said this simply is not true.

McMurtry said the next steps for lawyers will likely involve conversations and negotiations with the legal teams for the organizations and then possibly filing lawsuits. More media outlets will likely be sent letters as well, he explained.

He said what happened in the aftermath of the video “permanently stained the reputation” of Nick.

“For the mob to just go tear apart a 16-year-old boy is inexcusable,” McMurtry said. “He’ll never be able to get away from this.”

The Diocese of Covington and the Diocese of Lexington declined to comment. Emails seeking comment from the other organizations listed have not been immediately returned..

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