US teenager to sue over coverage of encounter with Native American

By Dan Sewell, Associated Press
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US teenager to sue over coverage of encounter with Native American

He is also threatening legal action against The Associated Press and other news organisations.

The Kentucky teenager at the heart of an encounter last month with a Native American activist is suing The Washington Post for $250 million (£192 million).

He is also threatening legal action against The Associated Press and other news organisations.

In papers filed on Tuesday in federal court in Kentucky, Nicholas Sandmann and his parents alleged that the Post had engaged in “targeting and bullying” and modern “McCarthyism”.

President Donald Trump cheered the lawsuit, tweeting that “Covington student suing WAPO. Go get them Nick. Fake News!”

The legal action, and possible future ones, comes at a time of intense scrutiny of President Trump’s relationship with the press, which he has repeatedly labelled the “enemy of the people.”

The actions of Mr Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High School classmates have been intensely debated since video and photographs emerged of them wearing Make America Great Again hats and facing off against Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips.

Both Mr Sandmann and Nathan Phillips say they were trying to defuse tensions that were rising among three groups on a day Washington hosted both the anti-abortion March for Life, attended by the Covington students, and the Indigenous Peoples March.

But video of Mr Sandmann and Mr Phillips standing very close to each other, with Mr Sandmann staring and at times smiling at Mr Phillips as he sang and played a drum, gave some who watched it a different impression.

Interpretations changed over the days following the incident as witnesses released more video footage.

Mr Phillips had approached Mr Sandmann, but well before that, both his group and Mr Sandmann’s were confronted by a third group that appeared to be affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

Videos show members of the religious group yelling disparaging and profane insults at the students, some of whom shouted back.

Video also shows the Native Americans being insulted by the small religious group.

Mr Sandmann’s legal team has released its own video, Nick Sandmann: The Truth in 15 Minutes. It shows scenes from the confrontation, clips from news coverage and interviews, and examples of harsh Tweets and comments aimed at Mr Sandmann and his high school.

Mr Phillips did not immediately return efforts to reach him for comment.

First Amendment lawyers were hesitant to comment without reading the full legal complaint.

Floyd Abrams, who worked on the landmark Pentagon Papers case of 1971, wrote in an email that “the press does get a good deal of leeway in voicing opinions about matters they have seen and are commenting on”.

One legal question might be whether Mr Sandmann would be treated in court as a public or private figure.

Mr Abrams observed that “sometimes individuals involved in newsworthy events are treated as involuntary limited purpose public figures”, meaning they would have to meet a higher legal standard than would a private citizen.