The Liberty University campus police have issued arrest warrants for two journalists who allegedly trespassed on the campus to report on the college’s operations during the coronavirus pandemic. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. also confirmed on Wednesday that the school plans to file a defamation suit against The New York Times for one of the articles. 

In mid-March, Falwell ordered staff to return to work. He also opened the grounds to students, though they were not required to come back. The New York Times sent a reporter to investigate and published a March 29 article, which disclosed that symptoms of the coronavirus were found in 12 students. The article reported that the school dispatched three students to hospitals for testing and that one student had tested positive for COVID-19.

The campus police department is composed of eight officers. The force remains under the control of the school and has no connection to the local police department.

The on-campus authorities filed charges against Alexander MacGillis, a ProPublica reporter, and Julia Rendelman, a Times freelance photographer.

The warrants come without the endorsement of a judge or a court clerk – Campus Sgt. Alan Wilkins signed the pair of Class One Misdemeanors, which claim criminal trespass of the school. State law says the offenses are “punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 or both.”

The decision to act on the warrants is in the hands of the Commonwealth attorney Bethany Harrison. Jurisdiction of the Liberty campus police does not extend to off-campus operations and does not include the enforcement of state or federal law.

In the meantime, Liberty University called on the Times to make a “clear apologetic correction” to the report.

 

The articles which prompted the investigation quoted students and professors. These members of the community claimed that proper adherence to social distancing guidelines was not being practiced at the school.

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