Controversial campus cartoonist wrongfully jailed p. 15

By: Allan Wolper JAMES MEHSLING WAS arrested last summer, the day after he drew a cartoon of a Lincoln police officer brandishing a nightstick over a prostrate suspect who later died.
Mehsling, a 23-year-old cartoonist for the Daily Nebraskan, had told his roommate, Matt Mentes, that a paddy wagon would probably come and get him.
And it did.
Police arrested Mehsling last June 22 for missing an April 20th court date on vandalism charges involving a car accident at a parking garage.
It turned out that Mehsling's friend, Shane Buscher, had been driving the car, and had even paid for the $50 in damage. But the court didn't record that.
So Mehsling had to spend four hours in a holding cell before he was bailed out, and later paid a $75 fine after pleading no contest to skipping the court date.
Tom Casady, the Lincoln Police Chief, recalled ruefully that the arrest was a perfect example of bad timing.
He also admitted one of his more ""zealous police"" officers had made a point of checking on Mehsling after the cartoon was published.
""Many police officers felt that Mehsling had gone over the line,"" recalled Casady. ""I counseled the officer to look for more options next time.""
The cartoon was an editorial protest of a jury's decision to acquit Luke Wilkie, a police officer, in the death of Francisco Renteria, the man pictured on the ground.
Renteria had died in police custody, but there was no indication on Wilkie that he used a nightstick to subdue him.
Still, Mehsling's arrest didn't get a fraction of the attention that his two cartoons on the Nebraska football team has received.
""I could see why the police department reacted the way they did,"" Mehsling said. ""It was a touchy issue. An innocent man had died in their custody. Of course they are going to be upset.""
Mehsling said University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne's reaction has gotten a lot of exposure, including a nice spot on an ESPN sports show.
"I thought I also would get a call from Tom Osborne,"" Mehsling said.
"Brian SHelito, the cartoonist before me said that Osborne had called him and asked for an apology.""
But Osborne never called, even though he made his feelings known by banning the Daily Nebraskan writers from the football practice field.
"I couldn't believe he did that,"" said Mehsling. ""But then again, Nebraska football is sacred here. Still, I never expected Osborne to do that.""
The country's editorial pages have added their voices to the debate over Mehsling's alleged poison pen.
The Chicago Tribune gave Mehsling's cartoons a mediocre journalism review but said Osborne was missing the point.
"They were legitimate forms of commentary on issues of public importance to the Nebraska community,"" the Tribune said.
Mehsling enjoyed the attention, even as he bristled at the suggestion that he was being less than fair.
"When someone attacks a cartoon, that's good,"" he said. ""I don't care if I get a good rection or a bad reaction. I don't like it when they attack my personal judgement.""
The Lincoln Journal-Star did just that.
"James Mehsling is making a name for himslef as a student cartoonist at the University of Nebraska,"" the editorial said. ""Unfortunately, he is doing taking irreverence to the point of irresponsibility.
"He did it... with his...Daily Nebraskan depiction of Lincoln Police Officers beating Francisco Renteria with nightsticks.""
The Journal-Star added:
"And now he is doing it again with his skewed cartoon perception of Cornhusker football player Riley Washington, a suspect in an attempted murder investigation, dragging a ball and chain at practice."" (See cartoon on page 14.)
Mehsling said the editorial writer didn't seem to be paying any attention to issue he was raising in the cartoons, noting that Washington was more than a suspect.
"Riley Washington had been charged with attempted second-degree murder an dhe was being allowed to practice,"" he said. ""It seems to me that people should have taken that a bit more seriously.""

DATE: Sat 25-Nov-1995
PUBLICATION: Editor & Publisher
AUTHOR: Editorial Staff


Corrections editorial staff jana pedersen


Corrections p.7

IN THE OCT. 14 issue of E&P, the name of a former editor of the Daily Nebraskan was misspelled. The correct spelling is Jana Pedersen.


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