Dallas Cowboy Says TMZ Destroyed Him

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Former Dallas Cowboy linebacker Robert Jones sued TMZ, claiming it destroyed his life by posting a bogus story calling him a suspect in a murder-for-hire plot.
     Jones sued Warner Bros. and two affiliates, TMZ and its reporter Elizabeth McKernan in Travis County Court, seeking punitive damages for defamation, conspiracy, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     Jones was NFC Rookie of the Year in 1992 and won Super Bowls in 1992, 1993 and 1995 with the Dallas Cowboys. He retired from football in 2002 and is now a businessman in Austin, where he lives with his wife of 23 years and his six children.
     Jones says in the lawsuit that estranged first cousin, Theodore R. Watson Jr., was released from prison in early 2014 and was desperate for money because he faced a restitution judgment of more than $187,000 for arson and insurance fraud.
     Watson, a “ne’er do well” who has spent much of his life in prison, harassed Jones and his family by begging for money and threatened them when they refused, according to the complaint. Jones says he served Watson with a cease and desist letter on June 10, 2014.
     So Watson “turned to the media pariah, TMZ, in an attempt to sell a fabricated story,” Jones says in the complaint.
     He claims that TMZ, “with a reputation as a lucrative scandal-buying outlet willing to pay big money for juicy content … was a perfect partner for Watson.”
     Jones says that TMZ reporter Liz McKernan told Watson he would not be paid for his story and TMZ would not post it unless he filed a complaint with police and provided a copy of it to TMZ.
     So on June 13, 2014, with the encouragement of TMZ, Watson went to Cleveland, Ohio police and told them he feared for his safety because Jones had threatened him on May 13, the complaint states.
     Watson said Jones wanted to hire him to kill Jones’ sports agent in Dallas, but when Watson refused, Jones told Watson that he, Jones, “is a gangster and he would make [Watson] disappear,” according to the complaint.
     Jones claims that in Watson’s “fabricated, one-sided” story to police, his cousin could not provide Jones’ address, and described Jones as being 5 feet 9 inches tall and 180 pounds. Jones is actually 6-foot-2 and weighs 255 pounds.
     Police told Watson that his allegations were at most a misdemeanor that did not warrant investigation and said he could try to persuade a prosecutor to consider an investigation, Jones says in the complaint.
     On the following Monday, June 16, Watson went to the records department in downtown Cleveland and obtained a copy of the incident report containing the “unsubstantiated, unverified allegations” he had made to the police, Jones says.
     Watson faxed the incident report to TMZ that day with a note saying: “This is it. There’s no turning back. Thank you Liz,” Jones says.
     He says the incident report was “completely false and preposterous.” When TMZ received it, he says, it did not contact police or Jones’ agent, but “broadcast” repeated stories that a police report had been filed against him claiming he had hired a hitman to kill his agent.
     TMZ also reported, falsely, that he had not responded after it “reached out” to him for comment; Jones says that both he and his attorney denied the story to TMZ.
     He says TMZ “did not want Jones or anyone else making discounting statements about Watson which would … impose a burden on the defendants to further investigate before publishing a story.”
     Jones says TMZ’s initial defamatory “broadcast” was at 2:45 a.m. on June 18.
     He says TMZ cited Watson as a source and reported: “A former Dallas Cowboys linebacker has been named the primary suspect in a police investigation in Cleveland after allegedly trying to hire a hit man to take out his agent … this according to a police report obtained by TMZ Sports.
     “The man at the center of the case is Robert Jones – a 1st round pick in the ’92 NFL Draft who went on to become a Pro Bowler who won 3 Super Bowls with the Cowboys …
     “So far, Jones has NOT been arrested or charged with a crime. We reached out to Jones several times for comment – so far, no word back.”
     A few hours later that day, Jones says, TMZ contacted his attorney, who told TMZ that Watson was a con man who had been harassing the Jones family for money, and told it about the cease and desist letter served on Watson.
     After talking with Jones’ attorney, TMZ did not retract the story but said Jones denied the allegations, without mentioning the cease and desist letter, according to the complaint.
     Later that day, he says, TMZ posted on its Twitter account: “WHOA. Ex-Super Bowl champ, Robert Jones allegedly tried to hire a HIT MAN to kill who?” The story went viral and was picked up by “scores of news outlets,” which republished the TMZ broadcasts virtually verbatim, with the lead, “According to TMZ” or similar attributions, Jones says.
     “Not only did TMZ recognize that their actions created a risk of repetition and further communication, it was their intention,” Jones says in the lawsuit. “Hence, the defendants are liable and responsible for … not only the libelous broadcasts, but also those who repeated them, as they are treated the same as direct and intentional communications.
     “Looking at the gist of the broadcasts and also at the specific statements contained in these broadcasts, they are defamatory and they are false in every material respect – and the defendants knew it.
     “Most basically, there was no ‘murder for hire’ plot. Indeed, Robert Jones and his agent have enjoyed a long standing, good, and conflict free relationship. And a simple call to the agent would have so confirmed, yet TMZ did not even attempt to contact the agent,” Jones says in the complaint.
     He adds that “there was no investigation by the police of anything at all. … They were not even investigating whether Jones had threatened Watson.
     “Nevertheless, the Broadcasts sought to create the false impression that the police themselves had made findings … suggesting that the arrest was imminent.”
     Jones says TMZ has “destroyed” him and his family and his business.
     “They have done so motivated by greed and an unbridled willingness to say anything, whether true or not, if it ‘sells,'” Jones says.
     TMZ did not respond to a request for comment.
     Jones seeks an injunction, punitive damages, and wants the allegedly defamatory statements removed from TMZ websites and other sources.
     He is represented by Ben Broocks in Austin.

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