As announced in FIRE’s press release this morning, expelled Valdosta State University (VSU) student T. Hayden Barnes has filed a federal lawsuit against VSU, VSU President Ronald Zaccari, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, and several VSU administrators. The complaint, filed late yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in cooperation with noted First Amendment attorney and FIRE Legal Network member Robert Corn-Revere, alleges that the defendants conspired to expel Barnes using the harmless cut-and-paste collage Barnes posted to Facebook.com as pretext, despite the fact that the collage clearly constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment.
Torch readers already familiar with Barnes’ shocking case will nevertheless be interested to examine the complaint in full, as it contains new information about the astounding conduct of President Zaccari during the weeks preceding his decision to “administratively withdraw” (read: expel) Barnes after Barnes protested Zaccari’s plan to build two new parking garages on campus.
For example, the complaint makes clear that Zaccari’s zeal to portray Barnes as presenting a “clear and present danger” to Zaccari would simply not be deterred, even when confronted with not one but two professional opinions testifying to the contrary. Zaccari chose to overrule (or simply ignore) the evaluations of school counselor (and named defendant) Leah McMillan and private psychiatrist Dr. Kevin Winders, each of whom concluded that Hayden—a decorated paramedic!—was an entirely peaceful, rational young man, presenting no danger whatsoever to himself, Zaccari, or anyone else. As the complaint alleges:
On May 2, 2007, notwithstanding the abundant evidence that any concerns about Barnes potentially engaging in violence were entirely unfounded, Zaccari directed that a meeting be held on May 3 to discuss his planned response to Barnes’s protected speech activities. On May 3, 2007, Zaccari held a meeting regarding Barnes which, on information and belief, Gaskins, Mast, McMillan and Keppler attended. At this meeting, Defendants led by Zaccari decided, unilaterally and without any process due to Barnes pursuant to the Constitution or to VSU and/or Board policies, to expel Barnes from VSU.
As we at FIRE have noted time and again, Barnes’ case is one of the most shocking we’ve seen—and that’s saying a lot. The complaint filed yesterday provides extensive evidence of Zaccari’s unrelenting determination to have Barnes silenced, constitutional protections of due process and freedom of expression be damned. Now Zaccari and his enablers will have to answer for their brazenly unconstitutional conduct in federal court.
Schools: Valdosta State University