Subjects being unhappy with the way they’re covered and expressing that to members of the media isn’t new, but it’s pretty rare to see that rise to a level where a newspaper files a complaint with local police about potential harassment charges. That’s what happened with former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu, though, who was convicted in 2015 of sexual assault against a female Baylor athlete in 2013, had that conviction reversed upon appeal in March (based on questions about phone records), and is waiting to see if the district attorney’s appeal will be considered. In the meantime, it’s come out that he was investigated by Dallas police for possible harassment over e-mails to The Dallas Morning News (which continued after they sent him a cease-and-desist), but that they eventually suspended the investigation, citing insufficient evidence for a harassment charge.
As per Tommy Witherspoon and Phillip Ericksen of The Waco Tribune-Herald, Ukwuachu has been sending repeated e-mails to many local media outlets about their coverage of his case. It’s unclear just what he sent to the Morning News, as they declined to comment to the Tribune, but Witherspoon and Ericksen detail the e-mails Ukwuachu sent to Tribune staffers:
Over the past year, Ukwuachu has sent more than a dozen emails to two Tribune-Herald reporters about his sexual assault case and resulting media coverage.
Ukwuachu repeatedly has claimed he will disprove his alleged victim’s testimony and file suit against McLennan County prosecutors.
“So you know why they really overturned my conviction?” Ukwuachu wrote to the Tribune-Herald on May 17 of this year. “Because these p– — ass prosecutors cheated and lied to win their conviction. That’s why their punk asses are about to get sued into the ground. You’re a f—ing loser and a f—– for writing bulls—.”
He also complained about coverage of [former Baylor head coach Art] Briles and the batch of Title IX lawsuits filed against Baylor.
“Keep writing bulls—- about my former coach (Briles) you peice (sic) of s—,” Ukwuachu continued. “You will be apologizing when you find out that he is innocent. … These lawsuits are nothing but money grabs and these allegations against (Baylor) piled up after I got f—– over … I will show the world.”
Tribune-Herald editor Steve Boggs says in that story that his paper didn’t pursue a police complaint of their own because “Although the emails were concerning, our newsroom team agreed Ukwuachu’s vitriol did not rise to the level of criminality.” And that makes sense; while those are certainly aggressive e-mails with plenty of profane language, there aren’t any clear physical threats there.
However, that doesn’t mean the Morning News was wrong to take this to the police. We don’t know what e-mails they received, and they may have been more specifically threatening. Continued e-mails after a cease and desist is a bit disturbing as well. And just because the police didn’t proceed with charges at this point doesn’t make the paper wrong for approaching them. Of course, it’s also possible that they did take these e-mails too seriously and escalate this further than it needed; we can’t know from the outside without seeing those e-mails.
In any case, this is certainly an unusual story. Complaints about a media outlet’s coverage are one thing, and to be expected, but e-mails from a subject that are severe enough to draw a harassment complaint and a police investigation are a much rarer occasion. And while these particular e-mails don’t seem likely to lead to a harassment charge, they may still have consequences for Ukwuachu; the Tribune-Herald story notes that “McLennan County prosecutors…could use Ukwuachu’s emails against him if there is another trial.”
It’s understandable why Ukwuachu is upset (he spent two months in prison after his initial conviction before posting an appeal bond, and is still required to register as a sex offender until the next court decides if they’ll hear the DA’s appeal), and objecting to how the media covers you is reasonable. However, doing so with this level of vitriol might not be the best approach.