Florida State Attorney, Stephen Russell, is suing WBBH for “hurt feelings.”
The RTDNA is stepping in to support the Waterman Broadcasting-owned station, which is being sued for defamation along with two anchors and reporter, David Hodges.
Hodges’ story focused on a portion of a U.S. Department of Justice report that pointed to Russell’s standards as being responsible for the high rate of unsolved murders in Fort Myers.
Here’s a portion of the report from the RTDNA site:
There is a perception among some stakeholders that county prosecutors will only authorize arrest warrants for those cases that have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, versus the lesser standard of probable cause. This perception contributes to increasing numbers of cold cases and lack of confidence in government authority/police.
Hodges’ interviewed a number of people including Russell in which he defended his office’s murder conviction rate and prosecutorial standards.
As the result of the false and defamatory statements made by [WBBH], Russell suffered and will continue to suffer humiliation, mental anguish, hurt feelings, and injury to his reputation.
Russell is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
“RTDNA offers legal assistance to journalists across the country by making available our expert Washington, D.C.-based First Amendment counsel to consult with, and provide advice to, local new organizations’ and journalists’ attorneys,” said Dan Shelley, Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads RTDNA’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force.
Waterman Broadcasting is not commenting on the story, the RTDNA reports.
Russell told the Fort Myers News-Press that he will not seek re-election in 2018. The paper reports that Russell told its editorial board that “he agreed ‘by and large’ with many of the findings in the [DOJ] report” and acknowledged, “’There certainly has been distrust that has been built up in the community since I have been here.’”