KHOU reported on the incident July 15 based on a witness who said shoppers “took matters into their own hands,” smashing the car window with a hammer while their mother, Araceli Cisneros, was inside the mall. In reality, Cisneros had actually accidentally locked the children — and her car keys — in the car, and had asked for help in smashing the windows to get them.
After the story went viral, Cisneros filed a suit claiming more than $200,000 in damages, the Chronicle reports:
The suit says KHOU and reporter Rucks Russell published the story with a “reckless disregard for its truth or falsity” and without doing the “most basic fact checking.” According to the suit, nationally syndicated TV personality Nancy Grace even picked it up, calling Cisneros an unfit mother.
“As a result of KHOU’s objectively false news report, Cisneros feared that she would be subject to prosecution for leaving her children in a locked car,” the suit alleges. “Based on the public’s response to the article … Cisneros also feared for the safety of herself and her family.”
KHOU has added an editor’s note to the online version of the story that reads: “The witness who shot the cell phone video was mistaken when he thought the mother left the children in the car while she got a haircut. We have removed that part of the story. The mother accidentally locked her keys in the car and recruited other witnesses to help smash the window open.”