Granite Broadcasting, parent company of Peoria NBC affiliate WEEK, along with the city of Peoria and its police department are being sued by a trio of Peoria residents for false arrest and defamation.
The Peoria Journal Star reports the three were arrested for looting after a tornado hit Washington, Illinois. They say they had a permit to be there and weren’t doing anything illegal.
Sherry Wallace, an associate pastor with Good Hope Full Gospel Church, initiated the permit in hopes of using the program as a ministry opportunity to teach young, unemployed members of their congregation about an alternative source of income, the lawsuit states.
Representatives for the city of Washington could not be reached for comment. Mark DeSantis, president and general manager of WEEK-TV, Channel 25, had no comment. WEEK-TV is a subsidiary of Granite Broadcasting Group.
After she received the permit and registered her vehicle, Sherry Wallace took her son and nephew to a section of a tornado-damaged neighborhood where they scoured the rights of way for recyclables while she remained in the truck, according to a complaint filed by the plaintiffs’ attorney. Soon, she noticed a cameraman watching them and became uneasy, so the men came back into the truck with the intention to leave the area. Instead, they were met less than two blocks away by armed officers in four or five marked squad cars and taken into police custody.
The cameraman had phoned police to report the presence of scrappers and began filming their actions, which would appear in a WEEK-TV, Channel 25 newscast that same evening.
The plaintiffs were handcuffed as multiple officers stood by with weapons drawn. The vehicle was seized, searched and impounded. The lawsuit attests Sherry Wallace tried to show the permit she had obtained but officers ignored her claims.
“There certainly were people who were looting, and the city and the town has the right to arrest looters, but (my clients weren’t looting),” said Larry Smith, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit, which includes a count for defamation, says that footage was shown not just on WEEK-TV, but was rebroadcast nationally by outlets including CNN and ABC’s World News Tonight, and locally by WMBD-TV, Channel 31 and WHOI-TV, Channel 19, damaging the reputations of the mother and son and Giles, the suit contends. Articles about the arrests appeared in the Pekin Daily Times and Journal Star.
No charges were ever filed against the trio in Tazewell County. The state’s attorney declined to prosecute saying that their actions were “aggressive scrapping” that did not rise to a criminal level.