A district court judge imposed a gag order Thursday in the sexual assault case involving former TCU student-athletes because of what he termed a media “feeding frenzy” over the past week.Judge Wayne Salvant, of Tarrant County Criminal District Court No. 2, granted a motion by attorney Gwinda Burns to restrict publicity in the case. Burns represents Virgil Allen Taylor, 19, and she represented Shannon Monroe Behling, 19, in filing the motion. Glynis McGinty represents Behling.
Taylor, Behling and Lorenzo Labell Jones, 20, were arrested by Fort Worth police Oct. 20 and have been charged with sexually assaulting a freshman female TCU student in a Moncrief Hall dorm room, according to court records.
The motion cited “extensive media coverage” as a reason for asking the court to restrict access to the case.
“It’s been a feeding frenzy,” Salvant said. “I just wanted to tell everybody ‘Let’s cool it down before we get way out of sync on this thing.’?”
Taylor and Behling were both named in the order, but Behling’s name and case number were hand written below Taylor’s name.
The motion restricts the media from reporting the details of pretrial hearings, photographing jurors and covering the trial in a way that would disrupt the proceedings.
The motion also orders that “no person, police officer, witness, court participant, or counsel comment to the media on any matter concerning this case at any time during its trial or pretrial.”
Rob Sherwin, an attorney at Brackett & Ellis who teaches media law at TCU, said including the term “no person” in the order makes it exceptionally broad.
“That means anybody,” Sherwin said. “And typically that would be very hard to enforce.”
Salvant said he intends to restrict people directly participating in the case from talking to the media.
Sherwin said a typical gag order normally restricts attorneys, the police or other participants from talking to the media.
Provost Nowell Donovan declined comment, citing the gag order.
University spokeswoman Tracy Syler-Jones said the gag order will not affect the university because questions about the investigation have routinely been answered by the Fort Worth Police Department.
“What happens now is we can’t talk about the case except in generalities,” she said.
Sherwin said gag orders are rare, and normally intended to prevent the publicity given to a case from affecting potential jurors.
“It always sets up the inevitable fight between the First Amendment and other parts of the Constitution,” Sherwin said.
That leaves judges to balance between the rights of a free press and the defendant’s right to a fair trial, he said.
The motion also closes all pretrial proceedings to the public.
According to court records, Burns began representing Taylor on Wednesday and Behling hired McGinty on Thursday.
Jones is still being held at Mansfield Jail on bail bonds totaling $27,000 and has not hired an attorney, according to court records.
The motion also asked the court to prohibit photography of anybody connected to the trial while they are at the courthouse and from photographing Taylor while he’s being transported to court, but Salvant crossed out those areas of the motion before approving it. He also chose to allow still photography of court proceedings, although Burns motioned to ban it.
No appeals of the order were filed as of Thursday afternoon when the court clerk’s offices closed.
Bond conditions for Taylor and Behling were also amended, according to court records. Both men are prohibited from contacting the female student who reported the assault or her family. They must also report to an officer from the Community Supervision and Corrections Department of Tarrant County every six weeks.
Salvant also granted a motion by Burns on Thursday to release some of Taylor’s personal property, including a backpack, an Xbox gaming system, five movies, some clothing and other items. He denied a request to release Taylor’s laptop.