News & Politics

Covington Catholic Teen's Lawyer: Hundreds in Media Will 'Pay a High Price' for Defamation

One of the attorneys representing Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann and his family says he’s confident that the media entities that smeared the 16-year-old boy will eventually be brought to justice in a Covington, Ky., courtroom.

“We clearly think that we’re going to be able to get these issues in front of a jury, and frankly, that jury is most likely to be here in Covington Kentucky,” said Sandmann family attorney Todd McMurtry Thursday. He added, “And this whole community knows what happened.”

McMurtry spoke with Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes by phone, saying he and co-counsel L. Lin Wood will be taking “pretty strenuous legal action” against potentially hundreds of media entities to make right some of the wrongs that have forced the family into hiding and damaged the boy’s reputation.

The teen’s name was dragged through mud after a viral video clip showed him smiling at Native American activist Nathan Phillips during an incident at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on January 18.

A nationwide media frenzy erupted and the Covington boys were falsely accused of mocking Phillips, prompting hundreds of threats against the school and the school’s students from across the country by phone, email, and social media.

McMurtry recounted that when he first saw the viral video online it only took him about a half an hour of browsing to discover what had really happened, yet major media outlets were running the incorrect story alleging that Nicholas and the Covington boys were mocking and bullying Phillips.

The lawyer told Starnes that he and Wood have received “literally hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation from the internet” and are working with outside sources to sift through the “mountains of information” they’ve received.

“This is going to take some additional time, but we do have a team of about seven attorneys working on this so we’re moving as quickly as we can,” McMurtry said.

The team has already identified over 50 people who may be liable and have sent them document preservation letters.

The letters were sent to media outlets, individual journalists, celebrities, and several Catholic dioceses as the first step in potential libel and defamation lawsuits.

The list includes 50-plus names of organizations or individuals: from presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren to actress Alyssa Milano; individual journalists including Maggie Haberman, Ana Cabrera and David Brooks; national media outlets like the The New York Times, CNN, GQ and TMZ; and the dioceses of Covington and Lexington as well as the archdioceses of Louisville and Baltimore.

Because information keeps pouring in, McCurtry predicted that “when it’s all over, the list is going to be in the hundreds.”

When Starnes pointed out that many legal experts are saying that the Covington case will be tough to win in court, McMurtry demurred.

“We’re relying on pretty solid United States Supreme Court precedent,” he said, citing the 1990 Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Company case.

Oyez, a website that covers Supreme Court cases, noted that in a 7-2 decision, “the Supreme Court held that there is no special constitutional privilege for opinions. The statements in the newspaper were sufficiently factual to be proved true or false.”

“We do think we’ve got a claim. Nick Sandmann is a private individual. He’s not a public figure. We don’t have to prove actual malice, we have to prove negligence,” the lawyer explained. “We clearly think that we’re going to be able to get these issues in front of a jury, and frankly, that jury is most likely to be here in Covington, Kentucky, and this whole community knows what happened.”

McCurtry hinted that the people of Covington would not have a lot of patience with the media’s talking points.

“For these national media organizations to think that they’re gonna be able to get by on some of their arguments when they’re confronted with people here from Covington, Kentucky, they’re wrong,” he said.

“The media and a lot of the talking heads … just went with the way they wanted to interpret things, and the way they wanted to interpret things was just not true,” he continued.

“By ignoring the truth that was immediately available to nearly everyone, they made false statements against my client that have damaged his reputation,” McCurtry argued.

He invited Starnes’ audience to put themselves in Nick Sandmann’s shoes and imagine what it would be like to have to endure what the boy has been going through.

“Imagine being the person subject to all of this hatred at age 16 and imagine when you apply to college, grad school…. Imagine when you go to a party. Imagine when you seek a new job or want to move to a new city.  People are going to know who you are. I don’t think people are going to forget this for years to come,” he said, adding that the people who pushed the false narrative should “pay a high price.”

“What they did to him is completely inexcusable. It’s a travesty and they all need to be punished and they need to pay a high price for what they did,” he declared.

When the story first blew up, the family was thrown into the center of “a crazy, social media firestorm,” he said. They actually had to leave their house and take refuge at a neighbor’s house, according to McCurtry. Hate mail and threats of physical violence were directed at the family as well as at their attorneys. “It was traumatic what happened to them,” he said.

“They saw a kid in a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and that just pushed every button they had, and they lost their minds. And now, unfortunately for them, they’re going to have to be held accountable for that,” McCurtey said.