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11.20.2004

Defamation

This is a statement written by a former Taylor student. I had originally decided against publishing it, but I since we're talking about full disclosure tonight...

I'm keeping the author's name out unless they say it's okay to use it. The author graduated from Taylor in the Spring of 2003. Remember, this is a third-party statement. I have no reason to question its accuracy; the details, to my knowledge have been verified by at least one other party. Similar incidents have been described to me by other people, as well.

One Evening in the early Fall of 2002 my friend and I were talking with Wesley English, then co-editor of the Taylor Newspaper: The Echo. He was sharing some of his frustrations at the paper with fellow students, as most leaders divulge these to their friends. Later, the conversation turned to missing equipment from the department, specifically a camera. I suppose it came about because Wesley knew I was acquainted with Justin McLaughlin. As it was presented to me, Justin had used the camera, had access to the camera, and so clearly had stolen the camera. Wesley stated it so quickly as if it were fact. I was shocked and questioned him, knowing that Justin was away for the semester and curious to how this could have happened.

Though I do not remember the exact conversation, it was made clear to me that “everyone in the department” was sure that Justin had taken these items. As I pushed further, Wesley was hesitant to talk about details claiming “he couldn’t say why” but Justin was “the only person who could have done it.” Concerned, I questioned his and the faculty’s actions, asking if anyone had spoken to Justin about the missing equipment. I found that no one had even approached Justin about the missing items, though I know that he was available as professors did contact him throughout the semester. When I asked if someone would sometime in the future, Wesley just shrugged it off. Later, talking to my friend who was also present for the conversation I remember wondering from Wesley’s demeanor if he truly knew any facts, or was simply talking about this verbatim from what he had heard from others in the department.

Later I brought the subject up again, troubled that an entire department would accuse someone without even speaking with them. I found that no further steps had been taken though “everyone was sure it was Justin.” I suggested that Wesley himself contact Justin, or ask a professor to, because I was sure that Justin wouldn’t steal something and if he was responsible for missing equipment it was probably a misunderstanding. Wesley was reluctant to listen to my suggestions and was clearly ignoring the real need to find evidence about the cameras whereabouts, though maintained that everyone in the department was sure it had been Justin. I do not remember if Wesley was sure that Justin was guilty or not, but am sure that he said what he needed to end the conversation.

I myself was the one to tell Justin of his guilt. I thought that surely someone had spoken to him about it by then, but he was unaware of any missing items from the department, let alone his guilt.

Though I am unable to remember the exact details of these conversations, I distinctly remember the message: Justin stole this stuff and everyone knows it. Had I not known Justin, I would have walked away and, as is human nature, told someone else about a horrible stealing student, I’m sure. It was only after probing that I heard the greater crime: no one was doing anything about it. However, obvious action WAS being taken – everyone was told (I suspect without any evidence as I was) that Justin had in fact stolen these items. A the year progressed a stolen camera, or any missing items, were never presented to the student body. I never should have known that anything was missing, and I certainly should not have been told that Justin was a suspect, let alone that he had in fact stolen them. Yet, I was. The disturbing part is that I am sure countless others were and think it to this day.

It still baffles me that students in leadership and faculty would not only sit idly by while valuable items were missing from a department, but would choose to blame – or at the very least allow others to blame – an individual who had never been questioned, even casually, about the items. If professors did not initiate or encourage the rumor they certainly turned a deaf ear to it, an abuse of leadership.

So. What I need to understand here, is how does telling people that you're a thief not harm your reputation? If someone will explain that to me, I'd be grateful. And the author of this statement wasn't the only who came to me saying they'd heard similar things from Wes.

Another told me, "He totally tried to turn me against you." Still another said, "I told him, Justin wouldn't still a camera..." And one of my first tip offs in January 2003 that not all was well is when Wesley said, before letting me into the Echo office to retrieve some old clips, "You're not going to rob us blind, are you?" At the time, that was a confusing statement. It's pretty clear now.

Also, just because I haven't had time to write about something doesn't mean I'm trying to hide it. I only have so much time. I'll get to as much as I can, I promise. And before I go:
"to constitute slander actionable per se, there must be an imputation of an indictable offense involving infamy or moral turpitude..." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 558
I'm not going to say much more about this. Just that that means when you accuse some of committing a crime without qualified privilege, they don't need to plead actual (money) damages when they sue you. The damage to a person's reputation is presumed by the courts, and enough for them to award damages.