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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Parents Claim Sheriff Defamed Injured Son

PATERSON, N.J. (CN) - Parents claim in court that their brain-injured son was beaten in public after the Passaic County Sheriff's Department defamed him to New Jersey media outlets, falsely claiming he was involved in a child pornography sting.

Barbara and Gregory Wichot sued the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Richard Berdnik, a captain, nine news outlets and Wayne Township, on behalf of their son, Jeffrey Wichot, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash when he was 11.

Jeffrey was declared legally incapacitated in 2009, when he was 19, his parents claim in the complaint in Passaic County Court.

They claim that since the sheriff's department falsely accused their son of involvement in the sting, he was fired from his job, assaulted at a mall, their house has been egged and he has been called a "pedophile," a "child molester" and a "disgusting slug," on the Internet.

Last year, the defendants Passaic County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Richard Berdnik and Capt. Robert Weston commenced a child pornography sting called Operation Minor Traffic, according to the complaint.

Fourteen people, including Jeffrey Wichot, were arrested in the sting in June 2011; Jeffrey was charged with three criminal counts: second degree distribution of child pornography and two counts of fourth degree possession of child pornography, the complaint states.

"Subsequently, on or about September 21, 2011, the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, on behalf of the State of New Jersey, applied to the Superior Court of New Jersey for a dismissal of all three (3) charges and/or counts asserted against plaintiff, Jeffrey A. Wichot, within Complaint #1614-W-2011-000620," it states.

The state's application for dismissal was granted and the charges were dropped in their entirety, the parents say.

But a week later, the Sheriff's Department called a press conference that was attended by defendants North Jersey Media Group, North Jersey.Com, Passaic Valley Today, Suburban Trends, The Wayne Today, The Wayne Patch, Straus News.Com, The West Milford Messenger and News 12 Networks.

Though the charges against Jeffrey had been dismissed, Berdnik, Weston and the Sheriff's Department indentified him by name, residence and "mug shot" as one of the nine people involved in Operation Minor Traffic, his parents say.

The media defendants then "publicized, disseminated, released, disclosed and otherwise reported the identity, address location and mug shot likeness of the plaintiff, Jeffrey A. Wichot, to the public at large through various news mediums, including but not limited to newspapers and similar periodicals, internet new posts, televised news programs and cellular telephone alert messages to community citizens," according to the complaint.

As a result, Jeffrey "has been subjected to numerous and ongoing direct and Internet communications, blogs and/or posts of a derogatory and degrading nature, wherein he has been referred to as a 'pedofile,' [sic] a 'child molestor' [sic] and/or 'disgusting slug,' amongst other insults of a similar derogatory and degrading nature," his parents say.

"Furthermore, following the public dissemination of this story by the defendants, as aforesaid, the plaintiffs' Wayne residence has been bombarded with eggs on at least one (1) occasion.

"Still further, on or about July 26, 2012, the plaintiff, Jeffrey A. Wichot was approached by a male individual at the Preakness Shopping Center in Wayne, New Jersey, who proceeded to repeatedly punch, kick and hit Jeffrey A. Wichot, while repeatedly calling him a 'pedofile' [sic], thereby causing Jeffrey A. Wichot to sustain personal injuries including a 'black eye,' a laceration to his forehead, as well as extreme public shame, humiliation, ridicule and embarrassment."

Jeffrey's parents say that after the press conference Wayne Township fired him from his public job, and their family business, plaintiff Wichot Plumbing and Heating, lost customers, revenue, profits and its business reputation.

The Wichots seeks punitive damages for defamation, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, employment discrimination and tortious interference.

They are represented by Jeffrey Trapanese, of Little Falls, N.J.

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