Tweeter Sagehorn files lawsuit

by Aaron Brom

ECM-Sun Newspapers

Former Rogers High School student Reid Sagehorn filed a lawsuit June 10 against the school district and Rogers police chief.

The lawsuit cites “harm to his reputation and standing in the community, mental distress, shame, humiliation and embarrassment” and requests monetary damages “against Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen for defamation.”

The lawsuit was in response to Sagehorn’s suspension and expulsion after an incident in January where Sagehorn said he sarcastically answered, “Actually, yes” to a social media posting that had asked if he had “made out” with a Rogers High School teacher. Sagehorn later issued an apology saying his words were never meant to be taken seriously or cause harm to the teacher. He also had written an apology to the teacher.

The tweeting incident garnished metro news front page coverage, near daily TV reports, and national and international media coverage. The attention sparked widespread debate in editorials and online blogs, some arguing that Sagehorn’s rights were violated and that his suspension was an overstep, others arguing that Sagehorn’s comments, taken seriously or not, had damaged the reputation of the teacher.

Chief Beahen argued for the latter and mentioned that Sagehorn’s comments could be felonious. He later said he had erred in mentioning a felony charge was possible. The Hennepin County Attorney’s office determined there was “insufficient evidence” to charge Sagehorn with a crime.

“Reid’s post was meant to be taken in jest. This was a mistake,” the lawsuit said. “He has since learned that sarcasm does not translate well over the Internet. He never intended for anyone to believe his post.”

Lawsuit documents said his conduct did not constitute threatening, intimidating or assault of a teacher, administrator or other staff member, which are grounds for suspension according to school policy. It further said, “Any reasonable school official or police officer would understand that to be the case.”

Sagehorn transferred to St. Michael-Albertville High School, where he graduated May 30.

The lawsuit contends that Sagehorn’s name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony,’ as any Google search will confirm. This has destroyed his reputation and will be detriment to his ability to find employment during and after college.”

Sagehorn requested a jury trial on all issues of fact listed in the lawsuit. There were five counts cited. The first was for First Amendment violations, noting that his “out-of-school, sarcastic reply” constitutes speech protected by the First Amendment.

The second count was for supervisory liability against Beahen, alleging that his actions amount to “reckless disregard.”

The third count is for unconstitutional custom and pattern of practice, alleging that District 728 subjected Sagehorn “to a deprivation of his clearly established rights.”

The fourth count was for Fourteen Amendment violations, stating that Sagehorn “was deprived a meaningful opportunity to be heard” to contest his suspensions and expulsion.

The final count was for defamation against Beahen, stating that Beahen’s comments were false.

Citing ongoing litigation, the Rogers Police Department confirmed Beahen would not comment.

The Rogers Class of 2014 graduated June 5. The lawsuit said that Sagehorn sat in the back of the gymnasium and watched as his former classmates all received diplomas.

“(Sagehorn) was barred from graduating with his friends and classmates of three and a half years or longer,” it said. “(Sagehorn) was forced to change schools with four months remaining on his senior year, one of the most exciting and carefree times in a young person’s life.”

The school district released the following statement: “District 728 acknowledges the receipt of a summons and complaint from attorneys representing Reid Sagehorn. The data related to this matter is private educational data and although the Sagehorns are free to release any data they wish, the district cannot disclose or discuss private educational data per the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.”