CLEVELAND (CN) – The family of a man whose murder was recorded on video and posted on Facebook sued for negligence in Ohio state court on Friday, claiming the social media company could have prevented his death by informing law enforcement of the gunman’s intentions.
The Estate of Robert Godwin filed its lawsuit Friday in Cuyahoga County Court. Godwin’s relatives say they are suing to hold Facebook accountable for the “heinous, violent acts” that led to the 74-year-old’s death in Cleveland on April 16, 2017.
Earlier that day, Steve Stephens had posted a video on Facebook pledging to find someone to kill. A few minutes later, he made good on the threat and shot Godwin. Before Stephens killed the elderly man, he ordered him to repeat the name of his girlfriend.
“She’s the reason this is about to happen to you,” Stephens said.
The murder video circulated widely on Facebook before the company removed it. The lawsuit claims that Facebook “took no action” after Stephens posted his video.
“Thereafter, the Facebook defendants, again through their own conduct as described herein, had actual and/or constructive knowledge/notice that Steve Stephens had murdered Robert Godwin Sr., on the public streets, just minutes from the location where he previously advised the Facebook defendants of his criminal intentions,” the filing states.
The family says it is not challenging Facebook’s content or free speech under the First Amendment.
“Rather, this lawsuit seeks to hold the Facebook defendants responsible for their own conduct, outside, and independent of, their role as an internet service provider, including their failure to take any action in response to a known and credible threat of violence,” the 24-page lawsuit says.
After a nationwide manhunt, Stephens shot himself in the head in Erie, Pennsylvania on April 18, 2017. Staff at a McDonald’s restaurant had alerted authorities after Stephens stopped to order Chicken McNuggets and fries. After a brief chase, he took his own life.
The estate’s attorney Andrew Kabat declined to comment. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Claiming negligence, failure to warn and wrongful death, the estate seeks compensatory and punitive damages.