Adams State Settles Lawsuit From Banned Former Prof, ACLU For $100,000

Update below: Adams State University officials have agreed to allow Danny Ledonne access to its Alamosa campus once more — and to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit brought on Ledonne's behalf by the ACLU of Colorado, claiming that the university violated the former film instructor's free speech and due-process rights. 

The bizarre case began with Ledonne questioning ASU's hiring practices and salary policies after his own teaching contract wasn't renewed. But it quickly escalated last fall after Ledonne was informed by the campus chief of police that he'd be arrested for trespassing if he stepped onto university property again. 

Ledonne claimed the ban from a public campus was retaliatory, while campus officials insisted that his banishment was a result of "safety concerns." President Beverlee McClure told the Alamosa Valley Courier that Ledonne is "a threat to our staff and students" and accused him of "harassment" and even "terrorism against me and the previous president." (The C word — Columbine — was also invoked, apparently because Ledonne had developed a controversial role-playing video game based on the 1999 attack on Columbine High School.) Ledonne denied making any threats.

When the ACLU first announced that it was filing suit in the matter last February, ASU's administration responded with a statement declaring that it would "aggressively contest any accusation that our safety-based decisions were in any way related to Constitutionally protected freedom of expression." But after mediation before a former federal judge, a settlement deal was reached late last week. In addition to the compensation, Ledonne can once again venture onto the campus, which he has claimed is a center of cultural activity in the San Luis Valley. 

In a statement announcing the settlement, ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein declared that "Adams State University was not able to produce a single piece of evidence that Danny Ledonne ever engaged in any threats of violence, direct or indirect, toward anyone or anything at the university.... [They] had no legitimate basis for banning Mr. Ledonne from campus, nor did university officials have any factual basis for the stigmatizing and derogatory characterizations of Mr. Ledonne that they communicated to the university community and the public.”

LeDonne stated that he is "very satisfied with the settlement and look forward to continuing my work in this community.”

A spokesperson for ASU has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Update 1:45 p.m.: A statement issued by ASU spokeswoman Julie Waechter stresses that the settlement involves no finding of wrongdoing by the university's administration. She contends that Ledonne and the ACLU did not "win" the case, because "the university’s insurance company paid the ACLU attorney fees; the only cost to Adams State was a $2,500 deductible." University officials continue to maintain that declaring Ledonne persona non grata was not an act of retaliation but "in response to concerns expressed by faculty, staff and students." The statement does not explain why, if the ban was based on legitimate security concerns, those concerns are no longer an issue. 
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast