No Mass Grave, but a Defamation Lawsuit
DALLAS (CN) - A Texas couple claim in court that they were defamed by major media companies, including The New York Times, Belo Corp., CNN, Thomson Reuters and ABC News, after a self-proclaimed psychic told the sherriff that 25 to 30 dismembered bodies were buried in a mass grave at their home.
Joe Bankson and Gena Charlton sued the news outlets, the Liberty County Sheriff's Office, Houston-based KPRC-TV and Jane Doe aka "Angel" - the self-proclaimed psychic - in Dallas County Court.
The couple claim that Angel called the sheriff's office on June 6, 2011, and said that 25 to 30 dismembered bodies were buried at the plaintiffs' house.
The sheriff's office provided the plaintiffs' address to the news media and repeated the false statement, and it made nationwide and worldwide headlines, according to the complaint.
Bankson and Charlton claim the sheriff's office searched their home unreasonably and without probable cause, inviting the media along to watch the intrusive execution of the search warrant.
The couple claim the sheriff's office was "unreasonable in relying on an uncorroborated tip from a self-proclaimed psychic source" who has proven to be "unreliable and untrustworthy."
The media defendants failed to make reasonable inquiries into the truthfulness of the statements they published, and failed to take reasonable precautions so that the false statements would not injure the plaintiffs' reputations, the complaint states.
The plaintiffs seek damages for defamation, negligence and unreasonable search and seizure.
They are represented by Andrew Sommerman with Sommerman Quesada in Dallas.
Liberty County is about 50 miles northeast of Houston. Its county seat is Liberty.