New Orleans Sheriff Says NY Times Defamed Him

NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman says The New York Times defamed him and his office in a July 9 video op-ed in which a former jail inmate claims he was raped and sold into sexual slavery for $20 in commissary items.

“This video constitutes ‘fake news’ in every sense of the phrase,” Gusman says in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Louisiana Friday against The New York Times, former inmate Rodney Roussell and four named creators of a digitally published video op-ed titled, “The Rape Jokes We Still Laugh At.”

The video features Roussell recounting detailed sexual assaults and rapes alleged to have occurred during his nine years of incarceration for check forgery. It was first published on July 9 as a look into the impact of prison rape jokes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and was still available on the paper’s website as of Friday.

Throughout Roussell’s narration, images of Templeman Phase V, a closed facility formerly operating as a jail at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, are displayed on a screen in front of him as he describes episodes of being raped, sexually assaulted and sold into sex slavery. The modern jail facility in New Orleans is also featured in the video.

Roussell says in the video that he was purchased for $20 in commissary items and became a “prison husband,” which he claims staff knew about and even mocked him at one point for being forced to dance for his purchaser.

The New York Times building in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

“I lost me here. I lost my humanity here. I lost my identity here. I lost myself here,” Roussell said. “It’s like I’m angry or something…at the building, it’s a weird feeling. And the people who can make the change, who can affect the change, make jokes about it.”

The sheriff’s 16-page lawsuit says his office and the Orleans Parish Prison are the only names and images in the video. He also claims that Roussell was not even incarcerated in Orleans Parish at the time his allegations are based on, and has never been incarcerated at its closed facility, Templeman Phase V.

“The video was published without verification of any facts, and in direct contradiction of known facts contained in a federal pleading drafted by defendant Rodney Roussell and available publicly, with no regard for the impact and damage it would have on the plaintiff and his office,” Gusman said in the lawsuit.

A New York Times spokesperson told Courthouse News on Friday that the paper looks forward to defending “our moving account of one inmate’s experiences in a court of law.”

“Orleans Parish entered into a consent decree with the federal government in 2013 to address widespread allegations of violations of the constitutional rights of inmates, including inmates subjected to sexual abuse.  The sheriff’s suit is an attempt to silence those who speak out about what happened to inmates prior to the consent decree,” the spokesperson said.

Gusman, represented by New Orleans attorney Blake Arcuri, called the video “politically motivated” in his lawsuit and an attempt to defame him, his office and the jail facility. The sheriff said it could hurt his reputation, staff morale and recruitment efforts. He seeks damages for defamation, libel and trespass “as a result of the defamatory and untrue video and article.”

In addition to the Times, the video’s director of photography, editor and two producers are also named in the lawsuit.

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