Other Stephen Morgan Sues Wes

stephen morgan - cornellLast spring, in the immediate aftermath of the Broad Street shooting, the Middletown Police provided the Wes Public Affairs office with a photo of the suspect, Stephen Morgan…and we all noted how it looked nothing like the man in the surveillance camera footage.

After some finger-pointing between Wes and MPD, it was discovered that the initial photo was actually of a Cornell sociology professor by the name of…Stephen Morgan. That Stephen Morgan has now filed suit against the University, claiming he suffered “humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress” because of the mix-up:

Connecticut State Police and Middletown officers supplied Wesleyan with an image of the Cornell professor, which they culled from a driver’s license database following the May 6 shooting death of Justin-Jinich in a bookstore near the Wesleyan campus. Investigators believed that the gunman was a 29-year-old Massachusetts man, and they obtained a photograph taken of Morgan while he was a student at Harvard University, said James K. Robertson, the professor’s attorney.

Police turned the photograph over to Wesleyan so that university officials could determine if Morgan had a connection with the school. Officers did not give the university permission to publish or release the image, the lawsuit says.

After Wesleyan circulated the photograph, it appeared on various news websites and was broadcast on CNN with a report saying “police believe he may be targeting the school and Jews,” according to the lawsuit.

On May 7, a Wesleyan employee noticed several comments posted on a university message board that said Morgan could not have been the killer because he is not 29 years old and doesn’t resemble the gunman depicted in surveillance photos. University officials met and decided that Morgan was not the suspect involved, the lawsuit says.

Corrina Kerr, associate director of media relations for Wesleyan, said Tuesday that the school does not comment on pending litigation.

Hartford Courant: Cornell Professor Sues Wesleyan Over Release of His Photo in Student’s Killing

80 thoughts on “Other Stephen Morgan Sues Wes

  1. Beau

    Steve,

    I’m sorry.

    I saw what appeared to be a change of opinion from the May 8 Courant report to the filing of your suit, and meant to add that to the discussion here.

    I can see how my post came off as negative (especially in the context of other comments on this post), and I did not intend for it to be. I was operating under the assumption that MPD released the photo (or authorized its release), and that the harm caused by your photo being associated with the other Stephen Morgan would diminish over time. I failed to consider your perspective, and for that I’m sorry.

    As for suggestions about how to use the jury award, I think you should pay your expenses, do something nice for you and your family, and consider donating what’s left to the Johanna Justin-Jinich scholarship fund. In that order.

  2. anonymous

    Wesleyan budget gap just got a little bigger. thanks Dr. Morgan, now Wesleyan students will have to suffer for something they didn’t do. the Wesleyan administration is to blame, but the Wesleyan students will suffer from any financial damage your lawsuit does. remember that universities are suffering big time from their endowment spirals…

  3. anonymous

    Wesleyan budget gap just got a little bigger. thanks Dr. Morgan, now Wesleyan students will have to suffer for something they didn’t do. the Wesleyan administration is to blame, but the Wesleyan students will suffer from any financial damage your lawsuit does. remember that universities are suffering big time from their endowment spirals…

  4. anonymous

    Wesleyan budget gap just got a little bigger. thanks Dr. Morgan, now Wesleyan students will have to suffer for something they didn’t do. the Wesleyan administration is to blame, but the Wesleyan students will suffer from any financial damage your lawsuit does. remember that universities are suffering big time from their endowment spirals…

  5. YO

    Steve,

    Great response, A few questions – have you consulted with your Connecticut attorney before making statements and naming individuals on a public website?

    Is he/she and your family okay with your offer
    to use any jury award for whatever purpose some miscellaneous Wesleyan student suggests?

    You may want to reconsider that a future point.

  6. YO

    Steve,

    Great response, A few questions – have you consulted with your Connecticut attorney before making statements and naming individuals on a public website?

    Is he/she and your family okay with your offer
    to use any jury award for whatever purpose some miscellaneous Wesleyan student suggests?

    You may want to reconsider that a future point.

  7. YO

    Steve,

    Great response, A few questions – have you consulted with your Connecticut attorney before making statements and naming individuals on a public website?

    Is he/she and your family okay with your offer
    to use any jury award for whatever purpose some miscellaneous Wesleyan student suggests?

    You may want to reconsider that a future point.

  8. Wes student

    Even before reading Dr. Morgan’s response above, I was supportive of his suit. Yes, the university was dealing with a lot at that moment, but that isn’t reason to release photographs that they weren’t authorized to. Reading that our school never even offered an apology nor worked to help remove the circulating pictures that THEY provided WITHOUT authorization.

    I feel like they were obligated to help with the damage that they caused and didn’t. Hence this is justified.

    It’s pretty fucked up that the school would do something so irresponsible and not even put out a public apology for it.

  9. Wes student

    Even before reading Dr. Morgan’s response above, I was supportive of his suit. Yes, the university was dealing with a lot at that moment, but that isn’t reason to release photographs that they weren’t authorized to. Reading that our school never even offered an apology nor worked to help remove the circulating pictures that THEY provided WITHOUT authorization.

    I feel like they were obligated to help with the damage that they caused and didn’t. Hence this is justified.

    It’s pretty fucked up that the school would do something so irresponsible and not even put out a public apology for it.

  10. Wes student

    Even before reading Dr. Morgan’s response above, I was supportive of his suit. Yes, the university was dealing with a lot at that moment, but that isn’t reason to release photographs that they weren’t authorized to. Reading that our school never even offered an apology nor worked to help remove the circulating pictures that THEY provided WITHOUT authorization.

    I feel like they were obligated to help with the damage that they caused and didn’t. Hence this is justified.

    It’s pretty fucked up that the school would do something so irresponsible and not even put out a public apology for it.

  11. Steve Morgan

    Dear Zach, Beau, and others:

    Thank you for your interest in my lawsuit against Wesleyan. I write to provide some information that you do not know but which will be featured prominently in the courtroom. I do not expect to convince you to change your opinions of my character, but I would like you to understand my position on the matter.

    The facts of the case:

    I was never a suspect of the police, nor even a person of interest. I have no criminal record. I have no connection to Wesleyan whatsoever. I have never been the subject of any complaint of any form at any institution I have attended or served. I have never uttered an anti-Semitic statement. Until this incident, I held Wesleyan in high regard.

    What Wesleyan did:

    The commanding officer of the Connecticut State Police who was on the scene that day has written to me in email which will be shared in court: “The photo and e-mail in question were provided to Mr. Tanaka, Wesleyan’s Special Assistant to the President for University Relations, during the early stages of this homicide investigation at the direct request of Wesleyan’s Director of Security. The photograph was provided to the President’s Office for the express purpose of assisting in the efforts to determine whether the person in the photograph was associated with the school in any way. No authorization was provided for any further disclosure of the photograph, and it was not disclosed to any non-law enforcement personnel or entity by the Connecticut State Police.” The analogous officer at the Middletown Police Department has said essentially the same thing in email.

    All media outlets who used the photo attributed it to Wesleyan. All verify that the police did not distribute the photo. Media who chose not to use my photo, such as the Hartford Courant, did not do so because they could not confirm from the police or other sources that the person in my photo was their suspect (and they did not think I looked like the person in the surveillance photo either).

    The morning after the evening that Wesleyan released my photo, and after they became aware of all of the speculation that it was a photo of me, the Wesleyan administration chose not to take my photo down. It was at that point that my photo was distributed nationally. (Indeed, it appears that at the same time they also chose not to release the NYU photo of the real suspect that the Hartford Courant was using. They didn’t think it was helpful, and released it several hours after they could have.)

    Wesleyan only took my photo off of the Wesleyan website at about 2:45 that day, 17 hours after it was posted, and only after the Cornell University press office demanded that they do so. That was nearly 3 hours after the Middletown Police Department told them the picture was not of their suspect. It was also the crucial period when my picture was put out by CNN, CBS, NBC, and AP.

    The harm I suffered:

    People who have posted to this thread have an insufficient appreciation for how harmful this was to me and my family. That is understandable, as I would have never predicted it either. Indeed, when I talked to the Hartford Courant while this was unfolding, I did not yet have an appreciation of all of the fallout that would come.

    When the five-minute CNN video is played in court, I expect you will have more sympathy with the emotional distress that this caused for me and my family. When you have your own 2 year-old and 4 year-old, you will understand what it was like for a few weeks, wondering who was driving into my driveway unannounced. Or wondering what I should do about email asking if I was a “talibanman.” When you have a full-time job, you will understand how harmful it is to lose weeks of work to something like this, trying (again without any help from Wesleyan) to get my image removed from countless websites.

    And, as for damage to reputation, the limits of this are even hard to know. The standard reaction from acquaintances and others who do not know me well is ‘Well, obviously we now know that you did not commit the murder, as they have got the other Stephen Morgan in custody. But, there are lots of Stephen Morgans out there. Why did you get mixed up in this? Do you have a criminal record, or did you once say something that got you on a list of some form?’ I then have to explain that I do not have a criminal record and have never said anything anti-semitic, and so on. This is an inconvenience, but I can undo the damage with people who talk to me. The problem is that not everyone who makes that inference contacts me and gives me an opportunity to defend myself. Since my picture is still out there on the web in a few places as the suspect of the police, and since some websites simply are unresponsive to my requests to take it down, someone in the future can make that inference. Having someone wonder whether you may have a hidden past that made you the suspect of the police in a hate crime is not helpful to one’s reputation.

    Wesleyan’s response since the incident:

    You are absolutely correct that I did say to the Hartford Courant while the real suspect was still on the loose that “I think we should forgive people when they make mistakes.” I do believe that, but I have no forgiveness to offer for the Wesleyan administration given how they have handled this. This is in contrast to both law enforcement and some members the media who have been very helpful in correcting the record.

    What did Wesleyan do? I do not know of a single media outlet that they contacted, asking that my photo be removed. I was left to do that, and fortunately the Middletown Police Department and Cornell University helped me a great deal in those efforts.

    Instead, someone from the Wesleyan administration called to express their regret that this happened to me. At first, I interpreted that as an apology, but as I talked with him it became clear that he would not accept any responsibility and simply wanted to express the regret of his insitution. It seemed that he was reading from a script written by a lawyer.

    As a result, I telephoned David Winakor, Wesleyan’s legal counsel. I asked him for an explanation of what had happened. He blamed the police, and so I asked him for a written explanation of what happened. He never provided one, only a scattered timeline that was self-serving and even left out crucial events that he had admitted to me on the phone earlier. As a result, I contacted the police, and after phone calls, got the email summarized above. I then shared with Winakor what the police had told me, and I asked him on the phone on June 3rd to provide a public apology on behalf of the university admitting that it was their mistake, which I could then share with websites, etc., who were still using my picture. He refused to do so, saying that they would not be providing a written “mea culpa” because Wesleyan’s position was that they “did nothing wrong.” It was at that point that I told him that I would have no choice but to hire a lawyer in an attempt to compel Wesleyan to write the letter and, failing that, bring a lawsuit against the university. He thanked me for my time and ended the phone call. I have not talked with anyone from Wesleyan since that day. That is a full five months since I asked for a written apology accepting responsibility. With nothing from them, I hired an excellent Connecticut attorney and filed a lawsuit.

    My character:

    I have never filed a lawsuit before, nor even hired a lawyer for anything other than the purchase of a house. If I was motivated to exploit this situation for personal gain, I suppose I would have already filed a lawsuit against CNN and NBC, etc., since they did not perform any due diligence and did not check with the police to confirm that the picture was indeed of the Stephen Morgan who was their suspect. After all, some media outlets did do this, displaying appropriate levels of journalistic excellence. Instead, I have brought a lawsuit against Wesleyan because, in my view, they made the crucial decisions that caused the harm and because they have been unwilling to help set the record straight, which has compounded all of the original harm. I have no qualms whatsoever, and no regrets that I have filed the lawsuit. No amount of questioning of my character will dissuade me from going forward with this.

    Use of any jury award:

    I see that someone has posted my email address to this thread. I hope you will use it for a purpose other than what was suggested in that person’s mean-spirited post. I welcome suggestions for how to use any money from a jury award which is left over after expenses are paid. Thanks to Cornell, my family is financially secure, and I don’t need the money from this. I can assure you that I would far prefer to have never been brought into this situation.

    Regards,
    Steve Morgan
    Ithaca, NY

  12. Steve Morgan

    Dear Zach, Beau, and others:

    Thank you for your interest in my lawsuit against Wesleyan. I write to provide some information that you do not know but which will be featured prominently in the courtroom. I do not expect to convince you to change your opinions of my character, but I would like you to understand my position on the matter.

    The facts of the case:

    I was never a suspect of the police, nor even a person of interest. I have no criminal record. I have no connection to Wesleyan whatsoever. I have never been the subject of any complaint of any form at any institution I have attended or served. I have never uttered an anti-Semitic statement. Until this incident, I held Wesleyan in high regard.

    What Wesleyan did:

    The commanding officer of the Connecticut State Police who was on the scene that day has written to me in email which will be shared in court: “The photo and e-mail in question were provided to Mr. Tanaka, Wesleyan’s Special Assistant to the President for University Relations, during the early stages of this homicide investigation at the direct request of Wesleyan’s Director of Security. The photograph was provided to the President’s Office for the express purpose of assisting in the efforts to determine whether the person in the photograph was associated with the school in any way. No authorization was provided for any further disclosure of the photograph, and it was not disclosed to any non-law enforcement personnel or entity by the Connecticut State Police.” The analogous officer at the Middletown Police Department has said essentially the same thing in email.

    All media outlets who used the photo attributed it to Wesleyan. All verify that the police did not distribute the photo. Media who chose not to use my photo, such as the Hartford Courant, did not do so because they could not confirm from the police or other sources that the person in my photo was their suspect (and they did not think I looked like the person in the surveillance photo either).

    The morning after the evening that Wesleyan released my photo, and after they became aware of all of the speculation that it was a photo of me, the Wesleyan administration chose not to take my photo down. It was at that point that my photo was distributed nationally. (Indeed, it appears that at the same time they also chose not to release the NYU photo of the real suspect that the Hartford Courant was using. They didn’t think it was helpful, and released it several hours after they could have.)

    Wesleyan only took my photo off of the Wesleyan website at about 2:45 that day, 17 hours after it was posted, and only after the Cornell University press office demanded that they do so. That was nearly 3 hours after the Middletown Police Department told them the picture was not of their suspect. It was also the crucial period when my picture was put out by CNN, CBS, NBC, and AP.

    The harm I suffered:

    People who have posted to this thread have an insufficient appreciation for how harmful this was to me and my family. That is understandable, as I would have never predicted it either. Indeed, when I talked to the Hartford Courant while this was unfolding, I did not yet have an appreciation of all of the fallout that would come.

    When the five-minute CNN video is played in court, I expect you will have more sympathy with the emotional distress that this caused for me and my family. When you have your own 2 year-old and 4 year-old, you will understand what it was like for a few weeks, wondering who was driving into my driveway unannounced. Or wondering what I should do about email asking if I was a “talibanman.” When you have a full-time job, you will understand how harmful it is to lose weeks of work to something like this, trying (again without any help from Wesleyan) to get my image removed from countless websites.

    And, as for damage to reputation, the limits of this are even hard to know. The standard reaction from acquaintances and others who do not know me well is ‘Well, obviously we now know that you did not commit the murder, as they have got the other Stephen Morgan in custody. But, there are lots of Stephen Morgans out there. Why did you get mixed up in this? Do you have a criminal record, or did you once say something that got you on a list of some form?’ I then have to explain that I do not have a criminal record and have never said anything anti-semitic, and so on. This is an inconvenience, but I can undo the damage with people who talk to me. The problem is that not everyone who makes that inference contacts me and gives me an opportunity to defend myself. Since my picture is still out there on the web in a few places as the suspect of the police, and since some websites simply are unresponsive to my requests to take it down, someone in the future can make that inference. Having someone wonder whether you may have a hidden past that made you the suspect of the police in a hate crime is not helpful to one’s reputation.

    Wesleyan’s response since the incident:

    You are absolutely correct that I did say to the Hartford Courant while the real suspect was still on the loose that “I think we should forgive people when they make mistakes.” I do believe that, but I have no forgiveness to offer for the Wesleyan administration given how they have handled this. This is in contrast to both law enforcement and some members the media who have been very helpful in correcting the record.

    What did Wesleyan do? I do not know of a single media outlet that they contacted, asking that my photo be removed. I was left to do that, and fortunately the Middletown Police Department and Cornell University helped me a great deal in those efforts.

    Instead, someone from the Wesleyan administration called to express their regret that this happened to me. At first, I interpreted that as an apology, but as I talked with him it became clear that he would not accept any responsibility and simply wanted to express the regret of his insitution. It seemed that he was reading from a script written by a lawyer.

    As a result, I telephoned David Winakor, Wesleyan’s legal counsel. I asked him for an explanation of what had happened. He blamed the police, and so I asked him for a written explanation of what happened. He never provided one, only a scattered timeline that was self-serving and even left out crucial events that he had admitted to me on the phone earlier. As a result, I contacted the police, and after phone calls, got the email summarized above. I then shared with Winakor what the police had told me, and I asked him on the phone on June 3rd to provide a public apology on behalf of the university admitting that it was their mistake, which I could then share with websites, etc., who were still using my picture. He refused to do so, saying that they would not be providing a written “mea culpa” because Wesleyan’s position was that they “did nothing wrong.” It was at that point that I told him that I would have no choice but to hire a lawyer in an attempt to compel Wesleyan to write the letter and, failing that, bring a lawsuit against the university. He thanked me for my time and ended the phone call. I have not talked with anyone from Wesleyan since that day. That is a full five months since I asked for a written apology accepting responsibility. With nothing from them, I hired an excellent Connecticut attorney and filed a lawsuit.

    My character:

    I have never filed a lawsuit before, nor even hired a lawyer for anything other than the purchase of a house. If I was motivated to exploit this situation for personal gain, I suppose I would have already filed a lawsuit against CNN and NBC, etc., since they did not perform any due diligence and did not check with the police to confirm that the picture was indeed of the Stephen Morgan who was their suspect. After all, some media outlets did do this, displaying appropriate levels of journalistic excellence. Instead, I have brought a lawsuit against Wesleyan because, in my view, they made the crucial decisions that caused the harm and because they have been unwilling to help set the record straight, which has compounded all of the original harm. I have no qualms whatsoever, and no regrets that I have filed the lawsuit. No amount of questioning of my character will dissuade me from going forward with this.

    Use of any jury award:

    I see that someone has posted my email address to this thread. I hope you will use it for a purpose other than what was suggested in that person’s mean-spirited post. I welcome suggestions for how to use any money from a jury award which is left over after expenses are paid. Thanks to Cornell, my family is financially secure, and I don’t need the money from this. I can assure you that I would far prefer to have never been brought into this situation.

    Regards,
    Steve Morgan
    Ithaca, NY

  13. Some sense

    Regardless of what you think is “morally” right for him to do he completely has a legal right to sue, and he has a legitimate chance to win the suit/receive a large settlement. Think about the fact that the ACB realized the mistake before University officials…

  14. Some sense

    Regardless of what you think is “morally” right for him to do he completely has a legal right to sue, and he has a legitimate chance to win the suit/receive a large settlement. Think about the fact that the ACB realized the mistake before University officials…

  15. Zach

    #15: On the contrary, I imagine the nature of the error—namely, that he shares a name with the killer—would be patently obvious to his family and friends. How could it *not* be? In a state of emergency, identifying and arresting the suspect to ensure students’ safety seems so much more important than worrying about inconveniencing some Cornell professor.

  16. anon

    So a public apology is certainly warranted, but suing for money just comes across as greedy, exploitative, and despicable.

  17. anon

    So a public apology is certainly warranted, but suing for money just comes across as greedy, exploitative, and despicable.

  18. anon

    honestly, I sort of think he has a right to sue. obviously the campus was in chaos and the school was desperate to give us information, but I think it’s really hard for any of us to imagine what that would be like to see your name and photo published all over news sites online saying that you are responsible for one of the most atrocious crimes possible. It would be very traumatizing, and I don’t think its something that could easily be solved just by saying to family and friends, “hey, wasn’t me!”

  19. anon

    honestly, I sort of think he has a right to sue. obviously the campus was in chaos and the school was desperate to give us information, but I think it’s really hard for any of us to imagine what that would be like to see your name and photo published all over news sites online saying that you are responsible for one of the most atrocious crimes possible. It would be very traumatizing, and I don’t think its something that could easily be solved just by saying to family and friends, “hey, wasn’t me!”

  20. anony

    @13 lately, we don’t have the money either though

    i understand that he’s pissed, but this is kind of ridiculous.

  21. anony

    @13 lately, we don’t have the money either though

    i understand that he’s pissed, but this is kind of ridiculous.

  22. money hungry

    why isn’t he suing the MPD or state police who released the wrong photo? maybe because they don’t have the money to settle a suit.

  23. money hungry

    why isn’t he suing the MPD or state police who released the wrong photo? maybe because they don’t have the money to settle a suit.

  24. anonymix

    “within hours?” Umm, 17, for a photo that they didn’t have permission to post in the first place, and that students figured out was of the wrong person within hours.

    Has the Wesleyan admin publicly apologized to Dr. Morgan? Seems like they’ve mostly spent their time blustering, finger-pointing, and denying responsibility. (Before the lawsuit — now they conveniently can’t comment.) If Wesleyan is trying to teach us to be accountable for our mistakes, they sure aren’t setting a very good example.

  25. anonymix

    “within hours?” Umm, 17, for a photo that they didn’t have permission to post in the first place, and that students figured out was of the wrong person within hours.

    Has the Wesleyan admin publicly apologized to Dr. Morgan? Seems like they’ve mostly spent their time blustering, finger-pointing, and denying responsibility. (Before the lawsuit — now they conveniently can’t comment.) If Wesleyan is trying to teach us to be accountable for our mistakes, they sure aren’t setting a very good example.

  26. johnwesley

    the point is, the university acted within hours to correct the mistake. It’s the nature of the event and the fact that it played out on the internet that makes it unique. Hopefullly, this can be settled out of court.

  27. johnwesley

    the point is, the university acted within hours to correct the mistake. It’s the nature of the event and the fact that it played out on the internet that makes it unique. Hopefullly, this can be settled out of court.

  28. anon

    it had to be the acb. only after it was posted on the acb, by yours truly, did it filter up to the administration

  29. anon

    it had to be the acb. only after it was posted on the acb, by yours truly, did it filter up to the administration

  30. Ben Post author

    @Sheek (who may or may not actually be you) – I’m betting it was the ACB. It’s not like we have any other “message boards,” and a lot more faculty/staff read it than you would think…

  31. anon

    What a jerk. Like he doesn’t understand what happens amidst an emergency. Has he ever stopped to think about how he would have reacted if this were happening at Cornell? Feel free to share your thoughts with him:

    EMAIL: slm45@cornell.edu
    PHONE: 607/255-0706

  32. anon

    What a jerk. Like he doesn’t understand what happens amidst an emergency. Has he ever stopped to think about how he would have reacted if this were happening at Cornell? Feel free to share your thoughts with him:

    EMAIL: slm45@cornell.edu
    PHONE: 607/255-0706

  33. Sheek

    On May 7, a Wesleyan employee noticed several comments posted on a university message board that said Morgan could not have been the killer because he is not 29 years old and doesn’t resemble the gunman depicted in surveillance photos.

    What “university message board” ???
    Wesleying? ACB? Internal message board?

  34. Sheek

    On May 7, a Wesleyan employee noticed several comments posted on a university message board that said Morgan could not have been the killer because he is not 29 years old and doesn’t resemble the gunman depicted in surveillance photos.

    What “university message board” ???
    Wesleying? ACB? Internal message board?

  35. stdnt

    The campus was chaos. We were shocked, horrified, and confused. Wes perhaps overstepped boundaries in releasing a photo. But one of our students got brutally murdered and the killer was on the loose; sorry you suffered some inconvenience in having to tell everyone you were not the killer, even when the actual killer is now in custody.

  36. stdnt

    The campus was chaos. We were shocked, horrified, and confused. Wes perhaps overstepped boundaries in releasing a photo. But one of our students got brutally murdered and the killer was on the loose; sorry you suffered some inconvenience in having to tell everyone you were not the killer, even when the actual killer is now in custody.

  37. braille

    … if you ask me, I think he deserves some money. But I think wes. should just seek a reasonable settlement right now and skip all this courtroom nonsense. This man was clearly called an antisemitic killer on the loose for no reason. That’s worth like 10 grand at least, right?

  38. braille

    … if you ask me, I think he deserves some money. But I think wes. should just seek a reasonable settlement right now and skip all this courtroom nonsense. This man was clearly called an antisemitic killer on the loose for no reason. That’s worth like 10 grand at least, right?

Comments are closed.