Henry Dunn was shocked when he received a “cease-and-desist” letter last month from Cobb & Cole Attorneys at Law of Daytona Beach asking him to stop making allegedly defamatory remarks about Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) and its leadership.
The letter from Attorney Scott Cichon dated May 16 says Dunn is “intentionally and with malice making defamatory statements about B-CU with the intent to injure B-CU’s name and reputation.”
Dunn, a Jacksonville resident, is a 1976 Bethune-Cookman graduate.
On Facebook, Dunn has posted comments and questions about the university’s finances, presidential search, accreditation, transparency, accountability and future.
The law firm’s letter adds that as a result of Dunn’s statements, “B-CU’s standing in the community and its business relations with its donors, prospective donors, alumni, students and prospective students has been damaged .”
Dunn was asked to immediately cease and desist making, publishing or re-publishing any allegedly defamatory statements about B-CU, its leadership, and its Board of Trustees, including its chair, Belvin Perry Jr.
“I have just been asking questions about what they are doing with funds and the board’s bylaws, which they won’t let anybody see,’’ Dunn told the Daytona Times.
“It is just B.S. All I am doing is asking questions. I am not threatening anybody,” Dunn told the Daytona Times. “The board just doesn’t want anyone asking them any questions.”
Dunn says he has spoken to an attorney but is yet to hire one.
“I am still posting online. I spoke to an attorney. I was told that these (cease and desist) letters are left to sit, used as a deterrent and the statute of limitations runs out in two years,” stated Dunn.
Kevin Davis, another Jacksonville native and 1974 graduate, received a similar letter.
The letter states that Davis also made false and damaging statements that hurt the university’s standing in the community and its business relationships with its donors, alumni, students and prospective students.
Davis told the Times, “I just see it as some B.S. They are referring to letters that I wrote to the editor of both the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Florida Courier in the past.”
“I am just regurgitating what was already said and printed in those publications about the bond status, enrollment, the presidential search and more.”
Davis’ letter, also dated May 16, asked him to state on the websites on which he posted that his comments are not true; cease and desist from making and publishing allegedly defamatory remarks concerning B-CU, its leadership, its Board of Trustees and Perry; and cease from making allegedly false statements to third parties regarding B-CU and its officers.
‘Sue me now’
“I spoke to Cobb & Cole. I told them that they can sue me now. I told them anything that they see in my letter to the editor of those papers they can use.
I have an attorney,” responded Davis.
Davis believes that going to court over the issue is a waste of time but may be necessary.
He stated, “In order for alumni to get any answers, we’re going to have to go to court. Nobody wants to put their money into it because it’s a waste of time. I am retired. I have time on my hands and I have the finances to go to court.”
Johnny L. McCray, Jr. is the president of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune National Alumni Association, formerly named the Bethune-Cookman University National Alumni Association. McCray is also being sued by the university. He weighed in on the cease-and-desist letters.
“I think it’s a sad commentary that the university would seek to compromise somebody’s free speech. These people simply asked questions and commented on the university’s lack of transparency and lack of respect for alumni,” McCray said.
“It is troubling when they expect them to give and support the university in so many ways. I hope we can get beyond trying to control alumni and spending the school’s money with unnecessary and costly litigation,’’ he added.
Allegation of threat
Comedian Roderick Zeiglar, also known as “Rod Z,” is a 1996 Bethune-Cookman graduate who played golf and was in the marching band at the university.
Zeiglar, based in Orlando, said he didn’t receive a letter, but his Lighthouse Media and Entertainment business has been threatened by the Board of Trustees.
“I was told by an employee of one of my clients that someone from the board called their employer and said I was making disparaging remarks about the school and its leadership, so I shouldn’t be working an event,” Zeiglar told the Times.
Zeiglar says he is prepared for any legal situation.
He said, “I am in entertainment. I have an entertainment attorney. I would take action if the Board of Trustees and its leadership took measures to affect my business.”
Alumni say that the board takes extreme measures to silence critics.
“This is what they are going to. They are threatening alumni and anyone critical of them with lawsuits, loss of employment and loss of income,” said Dunn.
Zeiglar went a step further. “These are the tactics they use. Perry and the board use scare tactics on those who don’t agree with them and what they are doing. They threaten you financially and with legal action.
They call your job, business and clients. They have lawsuits against the alumni association and individual alumni.”
Cobb & Cole didn’t respond for comment as of the newspa-per’s Wednesday deadline.
Zeiglar added, “It’s bigger than the Board of Trustees and Perry. We’re a private HBCU. If alumni don’t support the school, it will die.
“I am not against change. I think alumni and students need to be included. We are the bloodline of the school. I am in support of the success of Bethune-Cookman and all HBCUs .”