Judge: Lawsuit centered on Minnesota high school student's two-word tweet can continue
FARGO -- A federal judge has allowed a North Dakota State University student to proceed with his lawsuit against officials at his former high school in Rogers, Minn., where he was suspended over a two-word tweet.
FARGO - A federal judge has allowed a North Dakota State University student to proceed with his lawsuit against officials at his former high school in Rogers, Minn., where he was suspended over a two-word tweet.
In January 2014, someone online anonymously posted the question: “did @R_Sagehorn3 actually make out with [name of female teacher].” And Reid Sagehorn, then a senior at Rogers High School, replied with the tweet: “Actually yeah.”
Sagehorn, who's now a sophomore at NDSU, told his high school principal that the tweet was meant to be sarcastic. But the school district considered the tweet "a verbal assault on the teacher," according to court papers.
Sagehorn, an honor student and captain of the high school's basketball and football teams, was given a five-day suspension, which was later extended to 10 days. Ultimately, he switched schools to avoid being expelled.
In June 2014, Sagehorn sued Principal Roman Pierskalla, Superintendent Mark Bezek of the Elk River School District and Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, alleging that his First and 14th amendment rights had been violated.
The suit also claims that Rogers Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen defamed Sagehorn. That allegation stems from the chief's comments to the news media that Sagehorn's tweet was a crime and that he could face felony charges, according to court papers. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office decided not to bring criminal charges against Sagehorn.
Last week, U.S. District Judge John Tunheim issued a memorandum that denied the school district's motion to dismiss the suit. In his memorandum, Tunheim shut down the school district's argument that Sagehorn's tweet was obscene and is not protected under the First Amendment. The school district also claimed the tweet amounted to harassment, but the judge disagreed.
"All of (the school district's) avenues of escaping liability seem to have been closed," said Sagehorn's attorney, Robert Bennett.
Phone and email messages left for the attorneys of the school and police officials were not returned Monday.