A US high school student from Kentucky has sued the Washington Post for defamation, claiming the newspaper falsely accused him of racist acts and instigating a confrontation with a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
The lawyers for 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic high school junior who faced off with Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips on the steps of the memorial last month, have filed a $250m lawsuit against the newspaper.
“This is only the beginning,” said the lawyers, Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, on their firm’s website, noting that it was the “first lawsuit” on Sandmann’s behalf.
The suit was filed in US District Court in Kentucky, Reuters news agency reported, and it states that the sum – which is for “compensatory and punitive damages” – is what Amazon.com founder and the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos paid to buy the newspaper.
The lawsuit claims that the newspaper “wrongfully targeted and bullied” the teen to advance its bias against President Donald Trump because Sandmann is a white Catholic who wore a Make America Great Again cap on a school field trip to the “March for Life” anti-abortion rally in Washington on January 18.
The Washington Post’s Vice President for Communications, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said: “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defence.”
In a photo from the incident that went viral, Sandmann is seen standing face to face with Native American activist Phillips. The teenager stares smiling at him, while Phillips sings and plays his drum.
The incident sparked outrage on social media.
A private investigation firm retained by Covington Diocese, the Catholic high school in Park Hills, Kentucky, attended by Sandmann, found in a report released last week no evidence the teenagers provoked a confrontation.
The students were met at the Lincoln Memorial by offensive statements from members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, the report said.
The investigation also determined that the students did not direct any racist or offensive comments towards Phillips although several performed a “tomahawk chop” to the beat of his drum.
The tomahawk chop is an arm movement most popularly used by fans of several baseball and football clubs.
The action, considered to be offensive to Native Americans, involves moving the forearm forwards and backwards repetitively with an open palm to simulate a tomahawk chopping, and is often accompanied by a distinctive cheer.
The investigators said they found no evidence of such a chant and that Phillips did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him.