Tuesday, 22 November 2016 09:09
A retired policeman filed a complaint against The New York Post, and others, for articles following the plaintiff’s participation in a podcast. A federal court dismissed the allegations of defamation because the cop’s complaint failed to state a proper claim of defamation.
The policeman joined the New York Police Department over twenty years ago. He claims he fully disclosed all information about himself to the NYPD. After years on the force, he sustained a workplace injury requiring him to retire from the NYPD; he was then approved for a retirement pension. Upon retirement, the cop became very politically active and held press conferences and community discussions to lobby for police reform, specifically, his efforts related to police interactions with “communities of color.”
The cop appeared on a weekly podcast, wherein he discussed his childhood and growing up in Queens, New York. He also discussed his involvement with a youth gang, which included dealing crack cocaine, attempted murder and a friendship he had with a criminal convicted of killing an NYPD officer. The purpose of the discussion was to focus on how people can change, and his past did not define his future.
Following the podcast, The New York Post printed an article about the cop and included his photograph with the caption “THUG COP.” The article was entitled “A retired cop’s shocking life of drugs and crime.” A second article followed, entitled “Gangsta cop proud to be an infamous Post cover boy,” and explained the plaintiff received a six-figure disability pension.
After The Post published the two articles, the cop’s firearms were seized and his “good guy” status was revoked, meaning that the City attempted to de-certify him and discontinue his disability retirement pension for alleged fraud.
The cop filed a claim alleging the Post published defamatory statements about him, resulting in damage to his reputation. Specifically, he claimed the caption “THUG COP” in the articles constituted defamation.
Under New York law, defamation is the injury to one’s reputation either by written or oral expression. A defamatory statement is one that exposes an individual to public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, ridicule, etc., or induces an evil opinion of one in the minds of right-thinking persons. In order to establish a case for defamation, the claimant must show (1) a false and defamatory statement of and concerning him; (2) publication to a third party; (3) fault on the part of the defendant and (4) injury to the claimant. Opinions are protected under New York law, and a defendant will not be held liable for simply expressing an opinion of another person, however unreasonable the opinion may be.
The Post argued that words like “thug” and “gangsta” are non-actionable because they are statements of opinions, but even if those words were deemed not opinions, The Post argued they are truthful based on the cop’s criminal past. The court found those words are expressions of opinion and therefore cannot be defamatory.
With regard to the titles of the published articles, the court examined the articles and determined that the statements at issue are not reasonably susceptible of implying the cop was involved in any criminal activity while he was employed as an officer for the NYPD. The articles are clear that the criminal activity occurred before he became an officer. As a result, the court dismissed the complaint.