Judge Thomas Anderle has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the City of Santa Barbara, police chief Cam Sanchez, and police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood by 10 people who claim they were the victims of slander and emotional distress when they were named in an ongoing gang suppression operation and when their mugshots were displayed during a November 2013 press conference on the crackdown. The ruling also allows the city to recover its attorney’s fees.
Ouch. When this case was filed, I predicted it would end like this. When will attorneys learn?
In the case, the plaintiffs’ mugshots were shown in conjunction with a “gang suppression operation”. They took umbrage, claiming that while they had all indeed been arrested as part of the operation, they were not gang members. They claimed such an allegation caused all kinds of emotional distress.
Let’s freeze right there. As I explain in excruciating detail at WhatIsDefamation.com, to a certain extent, the speaker of the alleged defamation gets to define their own terms. Defendants here may define gang member as “someone who gets arrested during a gang suppression operation”.
But aside from this reality, it is not enough to show that the statements were false. Because this was a matter of public interest, the Plaintiffs had to show that the defendants acted with malice.
Counsel for Plaintiffs was seeking $1 million per client. He fell a little short. Instead, these Plaintiffs will get to split the cost of the defendants’ attorney fees.