Reporters for the free student-run newspaper at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville are getting more than an education in journalism — their editor-in-chief, Jacob Harn, says that they are also learning how little police care about the theft of hundreds of copies of their paper by a Florida Highway Patrolman.
According the students who produced the Spinnaker, an article appeared in the “Police Beat” column of the June 12th issue that named 25-year-old Joshua Hott as the person taking video of an 18-year-old male while he was using the restroom at the Lazzara Performing Arts Center on May 30th.
In that incident, the victim spotted Hott and chased him outside. He reportedly tackled Hott to the ground. The victim’s parents held Hott there until police arrived, the report said. Hott was arrested and charged with video voyeurism.
On June 13th, surveillance video, obtained from University of North Florida Police, shows two men taking all of the student newspapers, containing the police report, from a Spinnaker rack in the Osprey Fountains dormitory. The Spinnakers taken from the Fountains were among nearly 3,000 that went missing, campus wide, that day. Harn said that the papers had an estimated total value of $4,600, as well as over 150 paid and volunteer hours from students working for Spinnaker.
On Friday, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles confirmed that one of the men is Trooper Steven Coppola; a UNF graduate and member of Florida Highway Patrol Troop G. The video shows the two men removing the papers and walking around the building to a burgundy Nissan Juke parked in front of the building. They placed the papers into the back of the vehicle and left.
Trooper Coppola says he was concerned about how the coverage of the arrest might affect Hott’s younger brother, who is currently a UNF student. Coppola said that he and a friend decided to take the papers to prevent the story from getting out — a decision Coppola said he regrets. Coppola, who was off duty when he took the papers, is not the subject of an internal investigation, according to an FHP spokesman; which leaves Harn to decide what to do next.
“We don’t think that justice has been served in this case, and whether it was 20, 100, or 2,600 papers that were taken, it’s still a form of censorship,” Harn said. “I see that our right to free speech, as outlined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, is not safe either.”
Among his options is a federal civil rights lawsuit. According to the Student Press Law Center, a 1994 federal district court jury in San Francisco ruled that a former police chief and two officers violated a publisher’s First Amendment rights by seizing approximately 2,000 copies of another free publication.