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Investigation into incident involving Covington Catholic HS students at Lincoln Memorial completed

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

An investigation from a Taylor Mill firm retained by Dressman, Benzinger, Lavelle (DBL LAW) on behalf of the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School has been completed.

Greater Cincinnati Investigation, Inc., issued a report indicating it has interviewed chaperones, including faculty, and 43 students, regarding the Jan. 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial that involved students from Covington Catholic High School.

The students were in the nation’s capital to attend the March for Life and were assembled at the Lincoln Memorial while awaiting transportation to return home to Northern Kentucky. 

A written conclusion from the investigation states:

“The statements we obtained from students and chaperones are remarkably consistent. And, the statements are consistent with the videos we reviewed. As with any investigation, new evidence could come to light in the future. We are professionally satisfied that, at this time, it is proper to close the investigation and issue this final report.”

View the full report here.

In a letter delivered to parents of Covington Catholic High School parents, Diocese of Covington Bishop Roger Foys indicates the investigation “exonerates” the students.

“I am pleased to inform you that my hope and expectation expressed in my letter to you of 25 January that the results of our inquiry into the events of 18 January at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. would ‘exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives’ has been realized. Our inquiry, conducted by a third party firm that has no connection with Covington Catholic High School or the Diocese of Covington, has demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial.”

A letter from the Diocese of Covington, signed by Bishop Roger Foys, outlining the findings of an investigation into the Jan. 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial involving students from Covington Catholic High School.

The letter and the report from Greater Cincinnati Investigation suggest no further steps need to be taken by the school or the Diocese of Covington.

The January 18 incident involved Covington Catholic High School students, members of The Black Hebrew Israelites, and Native Americans who were part of an Indigenous People March on the same day.

One of the Native Americans, Nathan Phillips, engaged Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann and video excerpts from the confrontation went viral almost immediately.

The clips elicited visceral reactions from thousands of people throughout the country. Some criticized Sandmann’s reaction as disrespectful, while others praised the student for standing his ground as Phillips beat a drum and chanted inches from his face.

Bishop Foys

Hours after the incident, the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School issued a statement criticizing the actions of the students.

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.

“The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

In the January 25, letter to parents, Bishop Foys apologized and took full responsibility for the statement released shortly after the incident.

“Within hours we were being pressured from all sides to make a statement regarding a video clip which purportedly showed students from Covington Catholic High School being disrespectful to Native American Elder Nathan Phillips. Based on what the video clip showed we condemned the actions of students who engaged in the alleged disrespect and promised to investigate the matter,” Foys wrote then.

The final investigative report from Greater Cincinnati Investigation states it “reviewed approximately fifty (50) hours of internet activity, including but not limited to all major news networks, YouTube, Vimeo, social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.”

Despite the extensive research, investigators were unable to conduct in-person interviews with some key participants, including Phillips and Sandmann.

Investigators indicate in the report they made several attempts to speak with Phillips and even traveled to his home in Michigan, but were unable to conduct an interview.

Investigators also reached out to Sandmann’s legal counsel to request an interview, but were instructed to “consider his written statement of January 20, 2019.”

They have also been unsuccessful in obtaining surveillance video from the Lincoln Memorial, or in contacting someone known as King Trevon, who is reportedly responsible for circulating some of the viral videos. Investigators indicate in the report, however, that the videos are “confirmatory to our findings.”

According to a press release, the Sandmann family has hired Northern Kentucky attorney Todd Sandmann and Georgia attorney L.Linn Wood to represent them in the matter. Wood has a reputation for seeking significant damages for clients he believes have been slandered or libeled by the media.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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