Newspaper thief confesses to police

A freshman electrical engineering student admitted taking about 800 copies of The Oracle last month, telling police he needed them for his former high school’s float.

In an interview with police, Robert Zennie admitted he is the person seen on surveillance video carrying newspaper bundles from Roaden University Center, according to a campus police report.

Zennie provided police with the name and telephone number of the band director at Sevier County High School, but police were unable to verify that information as of Thursday, according to the report.

“He explained the marching band marches directly behind Dolly Parton in this annual parade and they were making a float in which they needed newspapers to make a paper mache music note to place on float,” according to a police report written by Lt. Michael Lambert.

The Oracle adviser reported the newspapers missing on March 22. The newspapers, valued at more than $400, were taken from a bin located on the bottom floor of the UC.

Police viewed the surveillance footage from the night of March 20 and found an unidentified man carrying four newspaper bundles. They released a copy of the photo to The Oracle on Friday.

Police received a tip from a journalism student who identified a possible suspect after viewing the photograph and searching social media sites.

When an officer interviewed Zennie on Thursday, the student “readily admitted” taking the newspapers. Zennie told Lambert taking the newspapers had nothing to do with The Oracle content.

A reporter called the telephone number Zennie gave police. The woman who answered hung up after the reporter asked if she knew Zennie. That number is connected to a Snapchat account under a different name.

 The reporter called a separate number reportedly associated with the SCHS band director and left a message.

Lambert forwarded his report to Katie Williams, the dean of students, for further review.

Williams said she reviews cases referred to her by university police or residential life officials for any violation of the student conduct code. If it is determined a violation occurred, the case then goes through the process listed in Policy 302 for possible discipline.

"The student is innocent until proven responsible," Williams said.

 The Oracle is seeking reimbursement for the cost of the papers.

Distribution manager Abbey Markus said she is willing to give outdated newspapers to anyone who needs them, but taking new newspapers is unfair to paying advertisers and to the student journalists.

Copies of The Oracle are free per single copy, however, taking more than one is considered theft, according to the Student Press Law Center. That policy is  printed on the front page of The Oracle.

 “The students worked hard, and there’s advertisers in there that need to get their ads out there that they paid for,” Markus said.