Reid Sagehorn, a former star athlete and National Honors Society student at Rogers High School in Minnesota, was suspended in January for an astonishing seven weeks — all over a seemingly harmless two-word Twitter message. Now the 18-year-old, who was 17 when he made the allegedly offending tweet, is suing the school district, several school officials and the local police chief, saying that that they damaged his reputation and violated his civil rights.
What were the two words in Reid Sagehorn’s Twitter post that sent the school into an uproar and changed the course of the teenager’s life, causing him to drop out of Rogers High and finish his senior year at another school and, he says, branding him with the label “felon” thanks to the police chief’s comments? What could he have said to cause such a disaster?
His entire message consisted of the words, “Actually, yeah.”
The Tweet was, Sagehorn said, intended as a sarcastic, joking response to an online question about whether he had “made out” with a 28-year-old teacher at the school. The school administrators said that Sagehorn defamed the teacher and they suspended the football and basketball team captain for five days, which they then extended to 10 days — and then to nearly two months.
Sagehorn, though he contended that he never meant the post to be taken seriously, apologized for the message in February.
“It’s definitely important that everybody who has heard about the story know how sincerely sorry I am,” Sagehorn told the Star Tribune newspaper. “No matter how I meant it, doesn’t matter.”
No relationship ever existed between Sagehorn and the teacher in question, an investigation confirmed. Rogers Police Chief Jeff Behean led an investigation into possible criminal defamation charge against Sagehorn. But the investigation was dropped due to lack of evidence and Behean later said that he made a mistake by using the word “felony” in connection with Sagehorn’s case.
But according to Sagehorn’s lawsuit, his name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony.’ ”
“Reid’s posting was meant to be taken in jest,” the suit says. “This was a mistake. He never intended for anyone to believe his post.” The suit also notes that the post was made outside of school hours, and used no school property.
Behean compared the “Actually, yeah,” post to falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, or announcing that there was a bomb on an airplane.
School districts around the country are watching the Sagehorn case closely.
“I think schools not only in Minnesota but all over the country are looking at these cases again because there hasn’t been any kind definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” said law professor Raleigh Levine.
But Levine believes that the facts in the Reid Sagehorn case lean heavily in the former student’s favor.
“The facts are particularly bad for the school because there’s not threatening behavior here,” Levine said. “The only disruption from speech came because of the school’s extreme reaction to it.”
The Rogers school district said it was unaware of the Reid Sagehorn lawsuit and had no comment.