Editorial: UAPD fails to lay down the law in stolen newspapers case

Injustice never provides any warm, fuzzy feelings, but when the very people who have sworn to uphold it commit a particularly jarring injustice, it feels like a slap in the face.


Someone stole the news, and the University of Arizona Police Department hasn't done much to find the culprits. Now that the case is closed, there isn't much hope they're going to do anything.

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When 10,000 Daily Wildcat newspapers were stolen from their stands on the morning of Oct. 8, not only were UA students censored, but Arizona Student Media, which falls under Student Affairs, lost $8,500 worth of advertising, salaries and printing costs. Local businesses were also defrauded of expected advertising.


Given the violation of First Amendment rights, the fact that this was clearly an attempt to punish Arizona Student Media and the potential loss of thousands of dollars for a university department, one would think the case would be treated seriously.


It wasn't.


At the very beginning, campus police weren't even sure the situation could be classified as a theft, because the newspapers are distributed for free around campus.


Media law experts in Arizona and Washington, D.C., claimed otherwise.


""It's a crime,"" said Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C. ""Although they're not sold, these papers have value. Whoever stole them deprived the newspaper's editors of that value. They deprive the advertisers of that value. They've deprived the university of the service. Whoever took them should be prosecuted.""


The UA's own Kevin Kemper, who teaches media law with the UA School of Journalism, called on UAPD and campus administration to ""take this incident seriously.""


Even President Robert Shelton condemned the theft as ""outrageous and completely counter to the principles of freedom of expression that we embrace at the UA.""


But despite all of this, the UAPD took the case anything but seriously, failing to even carry out what should be considered basic investigative steps.


After Spanish homework carrying the names of UA students and Phi Kappa Psi members Alex Cornell and Nick Kovaleski were found in a pile of the stolen newspapers in the western outskirts of Tucson, the first step by UAPD would seemingly be to contact the two men.


Instead, campus police dragged their feet, giving up after two unreturned phone calls and one unreturned e-mail to Cornell, Kovaleski and Phi Kappa Psi President Keith Peters.


""No other investigative leads exist at this time,"" the investigating detective wrote in his final police report, closing the case after only 16 days.


What about the single one they had, but failed to follow through on?


In what world does UAPD work where it takes 16 days to fail to reach anyone in Phi Kappa Psi?


Apparently the key to getting away with criminal mischief on campus is to just let calls from police go unanswered. If you steal $8,500 from the UofA Bookstore, you can easily get away with it — just ignore your ringtone.


When two students were taken into custody in September for chalking up parts of campus in a protest, UAPD responded quite seriously. They even used security tapes to identity suspects. Half that effort in the stolen newspapers case would have been much obliged. But it seems the UAPD can pick and choose which cases it takes seriously.


There wasn't a whole lot of evidence in this case, and what was gathered had to be obtained through the efforts of the Daily Wildcat staff, with no help from UAPD. Additionally, the lack of follow-through on the one piece of evidence is telling.


The situation seems to be winding down, at least from a legal perspective. UAPD has closed the case. The jury's still out on the Greek Standards Board hearing Wednesday night, where the Daily Wildcat must prove the fraternity's collaboration as a whole.


It's seeming more and more likely the culprits, whoever they are, will get off scot-free. Maybe things would be different if it were a police force doing the investigative legwork rather than reporters in a newsroom.


The sad part is that, barring any new evidence, we will never know. UAPD has done nothing other than help expedite the process by passing the buck, and that's a shame — for the university, for college media and for free speech everywhere.





Editorials are determined by the opinions board, which includes Shain Bergan, Alex Dalenberg, Laura Donovan and Heather Price-Wright.


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