FREE REID: Lawsuit filed against Elk River School District

FREE REID: Lawsuit filed against Elk River School District, police chief

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ROGERS, Minn. (KMSP) -

Reid Sagehorn has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Elk River School District and the Rogers police chief that alleges his constitutional rights were violated when he was suspended and over a Twitter post.

Sagehorn was suspended after he responded to an anonymous tweet claiming he had kissed a young gym teacher. Thinking it was a joke, Sagehorn said he sarcastically replied, "Actually yes.” 

His suspension sparked student protests and emotional comments from concerned parents at school board meetings, and it even inspired a social media campaign to bring him back to Rogers High School.

The case was investigated by local police for possible criminal defamation charges; however, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to press charges due to insufficient evidence. Authorities also confirmed there was never an inappropriate relationship between the two.

While prosecutors dropped the case, the school district suspended Sagehorn, forcing him to enroll in a different high school just four months before graduation. Now, the controversy has hit the courtroom. Although attorney Steven Aggergaard isn't connected to the case, he's admitted he's not sure Sagehorn's will stand up before a judge.

"Students have a right to free speech," Aggergaard told Fox 9 News. "Even more outside the school site and grounds." 

Even though the speech in question occurred in the online realm, Aggergaard says the school still may have been justified because educators have a right to make sure students' speech does not disrupt the education process.

"Schools do get some latitude to restrict speech, even punish speech, if there has been some sort of disruption," he said.

In fact, Aggergaard added that even though Sagehorn contends his tweet was sarcastic, that won't matter if it wasn't perceived that way. It certainly wasn't by the parent who first reported it, or the police. 

"Sarcasm is in the eye of the beholder, and ultimately ... someone might reasonably see this as being an expression of truth and fact as opposed to something sarcastic," Aggergaard said. "There could be some problems for a case such as this."

Sagehorn is seeking monetary damages and relief for legal expenses, and Aggergaard says cases like this usually end in settlement instead of a jury award for monetary damages; however, he said the case could bring attention to how institutions handle situations like Sagehorn's in the future.

"It's a good wake-up call for anyone using social media to stop and think twice about what the audience is going to interpret this as," Aggergaard said.

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