Teachers acquitted in newspaper theft case
OKLAHOMA–Two Oklahoma teachers were acquitted in mid-December of charges of destroying 3,500 to 4,000 copies of The Grand Lake Visitor, a free-distribution newspaper in Grove, Okla. Claudia Pollan and Martha Hamilton were found not guilty of misdemeanor counts of malicious injury to property in state district court in Jay, Okla.
Terry Hembree, publisher of the newspaper, said he is outraged by what he sees as collusion between the judge and the district attorney and has filed a complaint with the state bar association.
District Attorney Ben Loring initially did not want to prosecute the case on the grounds that the newspaper did not have fair market value, but changed his mind after Hembree argued that advertisers reasonably expected the newspaper to be read by a wide audience. Hembree also argued that the removal of the newspapers was a direct result of his condemnation of improprieties in the school system. He demanded a trial and said he would petition for grand jury indictments if the district attorney did not bring charges.
The case against the two women revolved around a factual dispute as to whether or not there were signs posted saying that one could only take a single copy of the newspaper. Joe White, the attorney for Pollan and Hamilton, contends that the sign was not posted until after the incident and that they felt they could take as many copies as they wanted. Furthermore, there was no evidence showing destruction of property.
The fifth anniversary edition of the newspaper, containing a full-page article criticizing the Grove school system, was distributed March 1, 1996. On March 2, witnesses saw Pollan and Hamilton remove papers from newsracks and place them in a van. Witnesses testified that the women said they were “getting rid of the papers”. White said the teachers intended to distribute the paper at breakfast at the school. During the trial, the school janitor testified that only a few papers were brought in at breakfast and were not distributed.
Hembree also maintains that the Grove teachers have been pressuring local businesses to stop advertising in The Grand Lake Visitor. Pollan and Hamilton had no comment on the case or accusations, and referred calls to White. (Oklahoma v. Hamilton)