It's still not clear exactly what landed a Grundy County (Tenn.) High School senior in jail last week, a move he said is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Trevor Sanders, 18, spent the night in the Grundy County Jail on April 4 for allegedly harassing another student after she was awarded valedictorian status despite graduating a year early.
Sanders was booked into the jail and charged with harassment non-verbal threats. He said his bond wasn't set until the next morning, and he wasn't shown the warrant until someone posted a copy of it to Facebook on April 7.
According to an incident report, the alleged victim's mother told sheriff's deputies Sanders was "harassing her daughter ... at school" and posting about the situation to Facebook because he "was upset she was graduating early."
Sanders has maintained he did not name the student at any point, though he does admit that he — and other seniors — feel wronged by a younger student receiving valedictorian status, noting that some scholarships go specifically to class valedictorians.
"My problem wasn't with her; my problem was with the school policy," he told the Times Free Press. "... I specifically avoided using her name because I never wanted any blame put on her."
His arrest warrant was issued by Grundy County Circuit Court Clerk Crystal Stiefel after the alleged victim's family requested it.
A private citizen can seek the issuance of an arrest warrant from a magistrate or clerk, according to Tennessee law. Usually, only law enforcement officers can seek an arrest warrant, but if a private citizen has a police report concerning the incident, a warrant for arrest may be issued.
A clerk may sign off on the warrant if he or she finds probable cause based on evidence, "which may be hearsay in whole or in part; provided, however, that there is a substantial basis for believing the source of the hearsay," Tennessee law states.
Stiefel did not say if any additional evidence was provided to her before issuing the warrant.
"From speaking with the father, I have probable cause to listen to what they say then issue that warrant," she said by phone. "I'm not releasing any kind of information on this 'What he said, she said' stuff, OK?"
She added "it's not based off a Facebook post, OK? There is more evidence that was brought forth."
Stiefel added that her attorney was getting "[documentation] ready ... if you want anything like that." She did not clarify before ending the call if she was referring to her personal attorney, what kind of documentation it was or what it was being prepared for.
"Everything as far as ranking, was gone by the handbook," Adam Floyd, Grundy County High School assistant principal, is heard saying in a video Sanders posted to Facebook before his arrest. "... Whether it's directly or indirectly, it's being said about the young lady, guidance, everything."
Sanders said he did make remarks, but they were lighthearted jokes or more in-depth discussions among his friends.
"To me, I was just exercising my First Amendment rights," he said. "I never threatened anybody. I never told anybody to do anything. I never made snide comments. I never made insulting comments. The whole situation with arresting me, I think it was ridiculous."
Grundy County Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey said "there is nothing in Tennessee law, the current school board policy or the student handbook that would prohibit any student from graduating early and being ranked with the class in which they are graduating."
But in its December meeting, the school board voted to amend the student handbook on how students qualify for academic achievement rankings, requiring students to attend the school for six semesters before their senior year. The previous policy did not state how to rank students who were graduating early.
It's not clear what happened between that board meeting and the announcement of academic rankings for the amendment to be thrown out.
Sanders said he thinks if students were previously made aware that a three-year student would be eligible for valedictorian or salutatorian status, there wouldn't be a problem. But after the school board vote, students were under the impression that that wouldn't be the case.
In any case, Sanders still faces a misdemeanor charge for harassment. He said he's focusing now on ensuring that the situation doesn't affect his future.
"I would like to fight this charge," he said. "I need to expunge it from my record ... I would prefer not to have anything on my record because I feel that I haven't personally done anything."
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