CINCINNATI – The legal team representing Kentucky student Nick Sandmann has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking $250 million in damages against The Washington Post, according to Nick’s attorney.
Todd McMurtry and L. Lin Wood, representing the Covington Catholic High School teenager and his family, filed the suit on Tuesday, according to a tweet from McMurtry.
The tweet included a link to McMurtry’s law firm website, which included text of the lawsuit. The suit was not yet available as of Tuesday evening in the docket of the Eastern District of Kentucky, the federal court where the attorneys say the lawsuit was filed.
The suit points to “no less than six false and defamatory articles” concerning Nick published by The Post.
More: How shady social media posts fed a viral firestorm over Covington Catholic
Kristine Coratti Kelly, the vice president of communications for The Post, said by email that the company is reviewing the lawsuit.
“We plan to mount a vigorous defense,” Coratti Kelly wrote.
The Post’s coverage is likened to a “modern-day form of McCarthyism” by Nick’s attorneys in the suit. The attorneys claim The Post competed with other national outlets to “claim leadership” of a mob of “bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann.”
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The attorneys accuse The Post of reporting a false and defamatory “gist” that Sandmann “assaulted and/or physically intimidated Phillips” and “instigated a confrontation with Phillips and subsequently engaged in racist conduct.”
Nathan Phillips is the Omaha tribe elder seen playing a drum and singing in the viral videos taken last month at the Lincoln Memorial. Covington Catholic students stand around him, with some chanting and performing the tomahawk chop.
Nick stands face-to-face with Phillips for a portion of the encounter.
The lawsuit also accuses The Post of reporting what Phillips said in interviews, including that he felt threatened by students, that students chanted “build that wall” and that a “guy in the hat stood in my way.”
An investigation by an agency hired on behalf of the Diocese of Covington cleared the Covington Catholic students of wrongdoing, finding no students engaged in racist or offensive statements. The report acknowledged some students performed the tomahawk chop.
More: Nathan Phillips says Covington Catholic teens were disrespectful
Phillips, in a statement, stood by his original assessment that the situation was dangerous and the students’ behavior was “disrespectful, racially charged and harmful.”
The suit also accuses The Post of publishing a “defamatory” statement issued by the diocese. The statement was shared with media outlets after the incident and it condemned the students’ actions.
One Post story used the following description, which Nick’s attorneys identified as defamatory toward Nick: “Surrounding him (Phillips) are a throng of young, mostly white teenage boys … with one standing about a foot from the drummer’s face wearing a relentless smirk.”
Nick’s attorneys did not immediately respond to questions about the suit posed by The Enquirer Tuesday evening.
The suit also claims that by publishing its first story, The Post fanned “the flames of the social media mob into a mainstream media frenzy of false attacks and threats against Nicholas.”
Jon Fleischaker, who represents the Louisville Courier-Journal and is general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, earlier told The Enquirer that potential defendants against Nick’s attorneys would have a “legitimate argument” that Nick would qualify as a limited-purpose public figure, as he participated in a public protest and has sought publicity on his own.
The suit claims Nick is a private figure because he previously had “no notoriety of any kind in the community at large” and his public statements after the incident, which included an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show,” were “reasonable, proportionate, and in direct response to the false accusations against him.”
Fleischaker and David Marburger, a Cleveland-based attorney who spent years representing national media outlets, earlier told The Enquirer that verifiable facts, rather than opinions, must form the basis of a defamation claim.
Marburger cited a 1999 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that found “only provable false assertions of fact can provide the basis for a defamation action.”
Sandmann’s attorneys said the suit was not pursued to “further a political agenda.”