MANHATTAN (CN) — A civil rights protester sued Fox News and its star Jeanine Pirro on Tuesday, claiming they defamed him on a September broadcast of “Fox & Friends” by accusing him of assaulting police.
DeRay McKesson says he was falsely arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during a 2016 protest of police brutality. The officer who had been hit in the face with a rock then sued Black Lives Matter and McKesson, but a judge ruled on Sept. 28 this year that Black Lives Matter could not be sued. Matthew Melewski of The Boutique Law Firm in Altamont, N.Y., is representing McKesson in the new complaint.
They say Pirro, host of the show “Justice” on Fox News, defamed McKesson after the lawsuit was dismissed, in “a series of outrageously false and defamatory statements about Mr. McKesson, including that he directed someone to hit the police officer in the face with a rock.”
McKesson says that Pirro, “a lawyer for over 40 years … was aware that these outrageous statements were false and made them with the specific intention of harming Mr. McKesson,” and that they did damage him.
Filed in New York County Supreme Court, the complaint says Pirro’s statements have “seriously endangered Mr. McKesson’s physical safety.”
The complaint cites many of Pirro’s statements from the show, including: “DeRay McKesson, the organizer, actually was directing people, was directing the violence … but guess what, the judge said, you know, what he was engaging in protected free speech. Now I want you to guess who appointed this federal judge.”
U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, who is black, was appointed by President Barack Obama.
Pirro continued, according to the complaint, citing a transcript of the show: “The problem is when you have federal judges who make decisions on politics – activist judges – not on the facts. You’ve got a police officer who was injured, he was injured at the direction of DeRay McKesson, DeRay McKesson walks away with a hundred thousand dollars, for an organization that is amorphous, we got a problem in this country.”
These statements, and others, “are false statements of fact that defamed Mr. McKesson,” the complaint states.
In an interesting sidelight, according to the complaint, when The Washington Post published an article under the headline, “On ‘Fox & Friends,’ Jeanine Pirro Slanders Black Lives Matter’s DeRay McKesson,” Pirro told the Post: “I was quoting paragraph 17 and 19 from court documents.”
McKesson says that too was false: “Defendant Pirro was not quoting paragraph 17 or 19 from any court documents.”
Though McKesson sent Pirro and Fox News a letter demanding a retraction, “Fox News Network refused to comply on the grounds that defendant Pirro was reporting Judge Brian Jackson’s order dismissing Black Lives Matter. Defendant Pirro did not respond to the letter,” according to the complaint.
Fox News told Courthouse News in an email Wednesday morning: “We informed Mr. McKesson‘s counsel that our commentary was fully protected under the First Amendment and the privilege for reports of judicial proceedings. We will defend this case vigorously.”
McKesson seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defamation, and an injunction preventing the defendants from publishing or republishing the defamatory statements.
Pirro is a former Westchester County judge and Westchester County district attorney.