‘Covington Kid’ Nicholas Sandmann Loses Defamation Lawsuit Against Major Media
Nicholas Sandmann lost his defamation lawsuits against several major media companies on Tuesday.
The teenager, who was 16 when a video of him and Native American elder Nathan Phillips went viral in 2019, plans to appeal the ruling after a federal judge overturned his cases against The New York Times , ABC News, NBC Universal Media, CBS News, Gannett and Rolling Stone, according to Insider.
Court documents showed the lawsuit centered on Phillips’ claims that Sandmann blocked his path. These claims were widely reported by major media including CNN and the Washington Post, which Sandmann eventually sued and settled for undisclosed sums in 2020.
The encounter itself took place during the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. on January 18, 2019. Footage showed Sandmann and his classmates from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who participated in the Anti-abortion march for life, meeting Phillips and other Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial.
A video showed Phillips drumming as Sandmann stood in front of him with a smile on his face. Some of the students wore “MAGA” hats, while others interrupted the native encounter by shouting and dancing loudly to the music.
The footage went viral and many saw Sandmann’s confident smile as a parody of the event.
Phillips claimed in later interviews that Sandmann kept him from moving. Sandmann claimed in 2020 that he was actually trying to “defuse the situation” by “staying still and calm,” according to CNN.
While further footage emerged on January 19 showing a separate group shouting offense at the Aboriginal group even before Phillips approached Sandmann, the initial video unwittingly made the teenager famous – with many pundits on the main media that prompted him to sue.
Federal Judge William O. Bertelsmann summed up in court Tuesday that Sandmann’s arguments regarding any potential defamation were “objectively unverifiable and therefore unassailable allegations,” however.
“The media defendants were covering a matter of great public interest, and they reported Phillips’ first-person view of what he went through,” Bertelsmann said. “It would alert the reader that Phillips was merely giving his perspective on the incident.”
Bertelsmann, who acknowledged that the Sandmann case was filed during nationwide racial tensions, said Tuesday that his decision was made “without regard to the rancorous political debate associated with these cases.”
Sandmann, who gave a pre-recorded speech at the Republican National Convention in 2020 and had then-President Donald Trump say he had been “smeared by the media”, responded to the ruling with a Twitter thread Wednesday.
“Obviously yesterday’s decision was a disappointment for me and my family,” tweeted Sandmann. “I am appealing the decision in the Sixth Circuit. Here’s why: Judge Bertelsmann reconsidered statements that I “blocked Nathan Phillips” and “wouldn’t allow him to retreat.”
“His job was to rule on the legal issue of the nature of these statements,” Sandmann continued. “If these were factual allegations, I could continue and a jury would then decide whether they were defamatory. But if it was opinions, it’s protected speech that I can’t sue for. Sandmann argued that the media claims were facts, not opinions, and therefore grounds for prosecution.