Amanda Beth Tatro

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U grad in Facebook case dies

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS
  • Star Tribune
  • June 26, 2012 - 10:59 PM

Amanda Tatro, the former University of Minnesota mortuary science student whose free speech battle with the school ended last week after the state Supreme Court upheld a disciplinary action against her, has died. She was 31.

Tatro's attorney, Jordan Kushner, said he did not have details of her death and hadn't spoken with her family. A family member, reached in northern Minnesota, declined to comment. The Hennepin County medical examiner's office confirmed that Amanda Rand, Tatro's married name, had died in Minneapolis, but could not provide any other information. Police did not consider the death suspicious.

Kushner said Tatro suffered from a condition that prevented her nervous system from working properly, causing pain and immobility. She often needed surgeries where spinal cord stimulators would be inserted, allowing her to move and walk.

"The way she described it, she was largely bionic," Kushner said. Still, she was working at a local funeral home after she received her degree from the U, despite the legal setbacks and her disability.

"Her accomplishments were extraordinary," he said.

Last Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the U's discipline of Tatro over Facebook comments that her instructors found threatening and violated the school's code of conduct. The U gave Tatro a failing grade and initiated a police investigation after she wrote on Facebook in 2009 that she wanted to use an embalming tool "to stab a certain someone in the throat" and referenced a "Death List #5." She also referred to the cadaver she was working with as "Bernie," a reference to the 1980s comedy "Weekend at Bernie's."

Tatro was never charged in connection with the posts and went on to graduate.

Tatro claimed at the time that she was merely venting after a breakup, and that the posts were satire. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the claim, saying the posts violated "narrowly tailored" rules governing students who work with donated cadavers.

The case drew attention from First Amendment advocates, who said it was groundbreaking in that it marked the first time a state supreme court considered off-campus free speech rights.

Kushner said Tuesday that Tatro wanted him to appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that he was looking for ways to do so. He no longer will, he said.

Kushner lauded Tatro for battling her medical condition and fighting for her First Amendment rights.

Because of her case and condition, he said, she had a difficult time finding a job in the funeral industry. Once she found full-time work, her condition prevented her from working full time, he said.

Although the outcome of the ruling did not impact Tatro, she was committed to fighting it on principle, Kushner said. "That's really what it was, she felt like she was wronged by being disciplined and her rights were violated," he said. "And notwithstanding the albatross from the negative publicity and her disability, she was good at what she did ."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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