Article on Rape Victim Slimed Him, Man Says

     (CN) – A man who was “exonerated” of rape claims six years ago says in federal court that a Virginia newspaper defamed him by suggesting that he got away with a crime.
     The Hook, a newspaper based in Charlottesville, published the article, “Unsilenced: How this mother fought to protect her daughter … and yours,” on Dec. 7, 2011.
     Curtis Ofori, who describes himself as a 29-year-old black man with degrees from the University of Virginia and the Wharton School of Business, says the article identifies him by name and explicitly portrays him as a rapist.
     Ofori says he successfully fought the charges that form the basis for the article back in 2004.
     After Ofori and K. Russell engaged in consensual sex at her apartment in February 2004, Russell filed a police report, according to his complaint in Washington, D.C..
     Ofori says Charlottesville prosecutors decided against prosecuting him for the “false accusation,” and that he then had to fight the charges with the university.
     A panel “exonerated” Ofori, and an appeals board affirmed, but the claims still haunt him, according to the complaint.
     The Hook article, which is still available on its website, describes the allegations of a purported lawsuit that Russell filed against Ofori in 2006 and later withdrew.
     Ofori says the article published “numerous false and defamatory assertions of fact, of and concerning Ofori.”
     “Its defamatory statements mention Ofori specifically by name, and falsely portray him as a criminal rapist and perpetrator of a sexual assault,” according to the complaint.
     Ofori cites 12 false and defamatory statements in the article.
     One statement reads: “After raping [Ms. Russell] for the first time, [Ofori] forced her to perform oral sex, the suit alleges, then raped her a second time.” (Bracketed text in complaint.)
     Charlottesville Publishing Group apparently fully understood the legal implications of the article, but published anyway.
     “Hook legal analyst David Heilberg says the placement of Ofori’s name and likeness could certainly prompt a civil suit for libel, but it would also invite further public scrutiny of incidents Ofori might prefer not to revisit,” the article states.
     Heilberg noted in the article that “The truth is a valid defense.”
     Russell’s mother, Susan Russell, was more combative in her defense of allegations leveled both in the article and on her website, The front page of the website features a photograph of Ofori and a caption that reads: “All because Curtis Ofori (and others like him) raped young women at UVA.”
     The Hook quotes the elder Russell as saying: “Let him sue me. I have nothing to hide.”
     Mrs. Russell is described in the piece as a “fearless victim’s advocate” who was motivated to take action by “the idea that her child’s assailant would get away without any punishment.”
     Ofori takes issue with a related statement in the article: “[Mrs. Russell] says there’s only one thing that will bring her peace: the arrest and conviction of Curtis Ofori.”
     Charlottesville Publishing is the only named defendant in Ofori’s suit. He seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for libel, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     Ofori is represented by Donald Temple.
     Editor’s Note: Ofori voluntarily dismissed his complaint on Sept. 29, a day after filing it. Courthouse News has abbreviated the name of K. Russell in keeping with a policy to refrain from naming alleged victims of sexual assault.

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