No charges will be filed after reports late last month that hundreds of issues of Virginia Commonwealth University’s student newspaper had been removed from racks around campus, according to VCU police and the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
VCU police are closing their investigation despite finding that the newspapers “had been improperly removed” because the prosecutor’s office has declined to pursue criminal charges, the university’s department said in a statement on Wednesday.
Colette McEachin, the city’s commonwealth’s attorney, called the removal of the papers “highly inappropriate behavior” but said “it did not meet the elements of any existing criminal statute.”
“In the context of proving the theft of an item that belongs to another beyond a reasonable doubt, that item has to have some concrete value,” McEachin explained in an email. “It would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an item that is ‘free’ has any value. It may have a moral, or sentimental, or informative value, but that is insufficient.”
The weekly paper is free, but according to a notice in the print newspaper and online, that is limited to one copy per person. Additional copies may be purchased for $1 per copy, according to the paper.
“Our decision does not prevent the university from imposing any administrative sanctions that it sees fit if that behavior violated the student code of conduct,” McEachin said. The university had previously said it would use the student conduct system to address violations.
The removal of the newspaper occurred after The Commonwealth Times published an article about infighting within the Student Government Association. The article reported that some members of the SGA accused leaders of the organization of harassment and creating a toxic environment. The Feb. 26 edition of the paper was removed from at least six on-campus kiosks by what witnesses and the newspaper said were leaders of the school’s Student Government Association.
“VCU supports its independent student journalists and does not condone censorship in any form,” the university reiterated in its statement on Wednesday.
Georgia Geen, executive editor of The Commonwealth Times, said she hopes the decision not to pursue criminal charges doesn’t make it harder to do so if this happens in the future.
“I remain hopeful that Student Conduct will take this incident seriously and that we may receive restitution for the money we lost when our papers were taken,” Geen said in an email. “The widespread condemnation of the actions of certain SGA leaders sends a strong message that censorship is not to be tolerated.”