"That there was much local coverage at all seems like a small miracle, based on what one source familiar with the Steubenville media told us. The source knew of one instance in which a higher-up ordered a local reporter not to touch the story, apparently out of deference to Steubenville's beloved football program."
How An Alleged Rape Involving Ohio High School Football Players Unfolded On Twitter, Instagram, And YouTube
Dec 17, 2012
Yesterday's New York Times has a thorough and thoroughly unsettling story about two members of Ohio's Steubenville High School football team who stand accused of raping a drunk and unresponsive 16-year-old girl during a night of partying in August. Maybe most unsettling of all: The girl may never have learned of the night's events had they not been so diligently tweeted, YouTubed, and Instagrammed.
The boys—Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, both 16 years old—were arrested Aug. 22, 11 days after the alleged incidents. They are currently awaiting trial, which is scheduled for Feb. 13. The girl is not a Steubenville High School student; according to the Times, she attended "a smaller, religion-based school."
...That there was much local coverage at all seems like a small miracle, based on what one source familiar with the Steubenville media told us. The source knew of one instance in which a higher-up ordered a local reporter not to touch the story, apparently out of deference to Steubenville's beloved football program.
Mays, a quarterback, and Richmond, a wide receiver, weren't allowed to play this year. But the school's head football coach, Reno Saccoccia—who testified as a character witness on behalf of Mays and Richmond—decided not to discipline any of the other players who testified to witnessing the assault until there were only two games left in the season. When pressed on this by the Times, the coach became combative:
Saccoccia, pronounced SOCK-otch, told the principal and school superintendent that the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong. Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.
Approached in November to be interviewed about the case, Saccoccia said he did not "do the Internet," so he had not seen the comments and photographs posted online from that night. When asked again about the players involved and why he chose not to discipline them, he became agitated.
"You made me mad now," he said, throwing in several expletives as he walked from the high school to his car.
Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: "You're going to get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will."
Saltsman v. Goddard
January 17th, 2013
In August 2012, two football players from Steubenville High School were arrested and charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Classmates circulated Twitter posts, videos, and photographs indicating that the players may have carried the girl, unconscious, from party to party and sexually assaulted her while others watched. A police investigation uncovered pictures of the girl, naked and apparently unconscious, from partygoers' phones.
Cody Saltsman, a football player who was not indicted, tweeted a picture of the girl looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. He also tweeted comments about the girl, including the phrases "whore status," "sloppy," and "I have no sympathy for whores."
Alexandria Goddard, a blogger who writes under the pseudonym "Prinnie" at prinniefied.com, wrote a series of blog posts on the case. She posted screen shots of related Twitter posts and photos. She also suggested that a number of unindicted individuals had participated in the rape, including Cody Saltsman. In response to a comment on her blog reading "students by day ... gang rape participants by night," Goddard wrote, "Cody Saltsman [is] playing tonight. Reno, SHAME ON YOU." She also wrote that his fellow football players should "roll on their pal Cody Manson" and "[p]erhaps when scumbag is finally arrested I will post a picture of him for his mother that says ‘How do you like your scumbag son now?' ... Tell Cody not to feel too bad, he is not the lone asshole in all this."
A number of commenters on the blog also posted about Saltsman, including statements that he was there when the rape was occurring, that he was the "mastermind" behind the crime, that he had previously stated he would "ruin that bitch," and that he had sent the victim's father the picture of her being carried by her wrists and ankles with text reading "look at your whore daughter now." Other commenters made comments including: "[g]et CS and his posy [sic] off the field and problem solved"; "Cody needs to suffr some consequences too!"; and, in response to the question "[w]hat is [the Saltsman's] business because I never want to spend money there," the statement "CS father owns Fort Steuben Plumbing/Maintenance."
On October 25, 2012, Saltsman and his parents, James and Johna Saltsman, filed a complaint against Goddard, fifteen anonymous commenters identified by screen names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (including those who made the above statements), and ten additional John Doe defendants. Saltsman sued for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sought injunctive relief, compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, and punitive damages. The complaint was amended on November 19, 2012 to add claims for false light and spoliation of evidence.
Saltsman's attorneys obtained the IP addresses for each anonymous commenter from HostGator, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) for the "prinnified" blog, which apparently turned over the IP addresses without providing notice to the commenters or to Goddard. On November 16, the plaintiffs moved for authorization to conduct discovery from each anonymous commenter's ISP in order to obtain the commenters' identities.
Goddard's counsel objected to Plaintiffs' motion for authorization to conduct discovery to obtain the identities of the anonymous defendants, asserting that the First Amendment right to speak anonymously barred such discovery.
In a supplemental memo supporting the motion for authority to conduct discovery, Saltsman disputed that the First Amendment protected the identities of the authors, urged the court to act quickly in order to prevent the ISPs from deleting relevant information, and argued that Goddard had no standing to object on behalf of the Does.
Acknowledging that there were no published Ohio decisions on point, Saltsman directed the court to the often-followed test laid out in Dendrite Int'l Inc. v. Doe No. 3. 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2001). Under Dendrite, courts allow plaintiffs to conduct discovery on anonymous online posters' identities when plaintiffs (1) attempt to notify defendants that their identities are being sought and explain how to present a defense; (2) quote verbatim the allegedly actionable online speech; (3) allege all elements of the cause of action; (4) present evidence supporting the claim of violation; and (5) show that, on balance and in context, the plaintiff's right to identify the speaker in order to redress alleged wrongs outweighs the First Amendment right to anonymous speech. Saltsman asserted that he met all of these elements, particularly focusing on the fifth element, the balancing of rights. Because the First Amendment does not protect false assertions of fact, he argued, the defendants had no right to anonymous speech in this context.
Goddard filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the motion on November 21, and a supplemental Memorandum in Opposition on November 26. Plaintiffs' responded with a second supplemental memorandum in support of their motion on November 28.
The Court filed an order on November 29, granting the plaintiffs' motion. The court authorized the relevant ISPs to release personally identifiable information associated with the IP addresses identified in the complaint. The court required that notice of the discovery be given to the anonymous commenters and that the commenters be given fourteen days after the notice to file motions to quash.
On December 14, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio stated in a press release that they had offered to represent a number of the "John Doe" defendants. ACLU Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood stated, "[w]e believe the real goal of this lawsuit is to discover the identity of anonymous online commenters so that they, and future commenters will be intimidated and discouraged from voicing their opinions. This is just an updated form of a classic Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which is typically used to silence speech that is protected under the First Amendment."
Plaintiffs reached a settlement with Goddard and the anonymous commenters and voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice on December 27, 2012. With one exception (defendant Waguespack), the identities of the commenters were not disclosed. No money was exchanged, and Goddard did not retract any statements or agree to stop covering the case. Goddard did write on her blog that she "never had any evidence of [Cody Saltsman's] direct involvement" in the events of the night and agreed to give him space on her blog to present his side of the story.
The "prinnified" blog also ran the following statement from Cody Saltsman: "I deeply regret my actions on the night of August 11, 2012. While I wasn't at the home where the alleged assault took place, there is no doubt that I was wrong to post that picture from an earlier party and tweet those awful comments. ... At no time did my family mean to stop anyone from expressing themselves online - we only wanted to correct what we believed were misstatements that appeared on Ms. Goddard's blog. "