Officer’s Suit Against Attorney Raises Questions About First Amendment and Holding Officers Accountable

by | Jan 5, 2015

A news story that had originally garnered media attention because of the rather odd details is back in the news due to an equally peculiar development. The original case involved a 17-year old boy who was arrested for “sexting” an explicit video to his 15-year-old girlfriend. The case gained media attention when it was revealed that the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney told the boy’s attorney that the boy needed to plead guilty or police would obtain a warrant for pictures of the boy’s privates for comparison to the evidence from the teen’s cell phone. The Washington Post posted an article about the case on July 9, 2014, that included a paragraph quoting the boy’s attorney saying she spoke with a detective on the case and that the idea of taking pictures and using software to compare pictures was crazy. After a couple weeks of media attention, the story seemed to die down with the boy being convicted on August 1, and being placed on probation with the case potentially being dismissed in 2015 if the boy stayed out of trouble and off social media for a year.Defamation Lawsuit

The case is back in the news because the lead investigator in the case has filed a defamation suit against the boy’s attorney, claiming that she defamed him by calling the investigation “crazy” and that she misstated what the detective told her about the case. The detective claimed that the statements by the attorney implied he had conceived of the idea and desired obtaining the photographs, and that he would be involved in the taking and comparing the photographs. A press release by the Manassas City Police Department put much of the responsibility for the picture idea on the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney and that the officers were only following his direction.

A libel suit by an officer against an attorney is very rare, and many legal and press experts had never heard of it happening. In fact one database that catalogs defamation cases filed by police officers searched by a Washington Post reporter appeared to only show one case involving an officer filing a defamation suit against an attorney. The experts also doubted that the officer had much chance of succeeding on his claim because of First Amendment protections and, noting that statements of opinion, including hyperbole, are a defense to defamation.

While it is important for attorneys, reporters, and other members of the public to be accurate in their claims regarding police behavior, it is equally important that police officers are able to be held accountable for their actions. At times the only way to ensure this is by drawing attention to their behavior and actions through the press and criticism. Other times it may be necessary to file a lawsuit to not only compensate the victims of their misconduct, but also to help prevent such abuses from occurring in the future. That’s why it can be so important to seek competent legal counsel if you or someone you love has been injured as a result of the police misconduct. The attorneys as Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, & Siegel, P.C., have years of experience representing people who have been injured as a result of police misconduct. It is important to hold police officers accountable for their actions. It helps ensure that other officers and police departments can avoid committing the same errors, making us all safer.

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