Editor fights for free speach

Dimitris Desyllas, editor of Portland State’s bi-weekly publication The Rearguard, will hold a press conference today that will detail how he thinks his First Amendment rights have been violated by Portland State’s administration. Desyllas had demanded that PSU apologize for padlocking his office and misleading him about his rights and that the university re-train security on 1st Amendment issues.

The incident in question occurred on Friday, Feb. 23. PSU officials received word through student government that the Rearguard had possession of a box of confidential records. The box was full of student disciplinary records, and were in a shabby, water-damaged box.

According to Desyllas, Director of Public Safety John Fowler told him that they would “stay with him all night if we have to,” that he could be arrested, and that they would get a search warrant if necessary. Desyllas was accompanied by security to his office where he unsuccessfully tried to reach his lawyer and faculty advisor.

Fowler and Special Assistant to the President Rod Diman deny that Desyllas was in any way detained. Diman said, “Our main concern was to retrieve the records. They were confidential records, the university was its custodian, it was university property, and we were concerned that there could be repercussions if the contents of the files were made public. We decided that it was paramount to us to get the files back.”

Diman said that they had called the state Attorney General’s office for an opinion before locking the office.

The box was found at the Rearguard’s doorstep with a note attached that said, “Dear Editor, I found this in the catering kitchen on the floor and I thought you would know what to do with this.”

“How they got there we have not been able to trace,” Diman said. “We do know that we have a list of three other boxes which are located where they’re supposed to be; in a secured, alarmed storage facility with library records.”

Desyllas eventually relented and handed over the records. “Dimitris had told us, in fact, that the records were not in the office. I think that’s very important because they were later recovered from the office,” Fowler said. Desyllas has since been given legal opinions that his office was off limits to a search and that he could have kept the records.

In the Nixon years, state and federal laws governing freedom of the press were passed that strengthened and clarified First Amendment freedoms. Known as shield laws, they protect newsrooms from interference and search except when probable cause exists to believe a crime was or will be committed.

The Supreme Court has also ruled that stolen or confidential items obtained by the press are protected from search and seizure by the First Amendment. The ruling paved the way for the publication of the leaked “Pentagon Papers.”

Judson Randall, Student Publications Adviser, said, “Free press is what we do here at the university. PSU is government, and government should not infringe on a free press.”

Diman said that putting the lock on the door was not interference, and that they were just keeping the files safe. Desyllas said that the office was already locked, so the records had been perfectly safe. He feels that Diman and Fowler misled him.

“They said that I could be arrested and that they could get a search warrant. I feel that they misled me as to what my rights were,” Desyllas said. “Had I known my rights I would’ve not given them the files. I was working on a story at the time.” When asked if he had planned on publishing any of the information in the files Desyllas responded, “No, no, I wasn’t going to name anybody.”

The university must keep records involving suspension for at least 10 years and involving expulsions for 75 years. The box was marked as containing records from 1978 to 1989, and that it was closed in 1995. It also said, “Susan Hopp” and “Confidential.” Susan Hopp is Associate Dean of Student Affairs.

Desyllas complained that there are several members of the administration who laugh or roll their eyes at members of student organizations and treat students with disrespect. “They hold us accountable when something goes wrong, but with them there’s no accountability.” He also complained that the administration has access to attorneys and that student groups do not.

“We’ve had the laws interpreted for us in certain ways,” Desyllas said, “and the way they’ve explained it to us has not been the correct interpretation. We were also told that certain laws didn’t exist for students. We have to challenge their interpretation of the laws in order to protect our First Amendment rights and our rights as students and as human beings.”