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Sunday, March 3, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Reality’ Cop Show Accused of Harassment

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CN) - Two men claim Spike TV and the Jersey City Police Department barged into their apartment twice, without warrants, and Spike TV broadcast the warrantless busts and searches on its "DEA" show "without obtaining a signed release" and without blurring one man's face, as it promised.

Tyler Hodson and Eric McGuirl sued Al Roker Entertainment, Spike TV and its "DEA" show, Jersey City and its Police Department, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, two named police officers and other John Doe officers, in Hudson County Court.

Defendant Roker is the TV personality and cast member of the "Today" show, whose company owns and/or produces the "DEA" show, for Spike TV, according to the complaint.

This is the latest in a string of legal complaints against so-called "reality" TV shows that police departments invite to ride along with them.

Hodson and McGuirl say the police department "claimed they acquired information about plaintiff which resulted in defendants going to the premises" in January 2009, but they say the information was "not from a reliable source" and "no law enforcement member ... attempted to obtain a search warrant or arrest warrant," nor did they conduct surveillance before going in.

Police, accompanied by a film crew, "walked up the flight of stairs and entered the plaintiff's apartment without a search warrant" on Jan. 29, 2009, and "placed plaintiff in handcuffs while he was outside the premises on the front steps," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say the arrest was without probable cause, without warrant, and without permission from any of the three residents of the apartment.

"Defendant film crew, consisting of at least three people, including a person who later identified himself as a producer, filmed and recorded outside the premises, entered the building, walked up the stairs and entered plaintiff's apartment also filming, without any authorization or permission from plaintiff," the complaint states.

Although there are two plaintiffs, the 13-page complaint seldom differentiates them.

The complaint continues: "While in plaintiff's apartment the producer told plaintiff he was not a member of law enforcement, that he was the producer of a television show and, while the crew continued to film and record, the producer stated that plaintiff was already under arrest and he wanted plaintiff to sign a document that would not allow anyone to broadcast plaintiff's likeness, face, body, and voice; that all would be blurred and even wrote such items on the back of the document.

"Defendants law enforcement and film crew, acting in concert, and after plaintiff said many times that he did not want to sign anything without an attorney, was told that without plaintiff's signature, and because he was under arrest, they could display plaintiff's face and voice without being blurred, on national television. The producer assured plaintiff that if he signed the document with all the entries on the back that the producer had handwritten stating that plaintiff's face, body and voice would be blurred, and a member of law enforcement also assuring plaintiff of the same, Plaintiff signed the document."

To cap it off, the plaintiff says, police seized his car, and rather than taking it to an impound point, they drove it to "an unauthorized location" and "parked it at a restaurant," where they "dined in part as a celebration of their activities." They also ran it through a toll booth on I-280 without paying, resulting in a fine for the plaintiff, which the cops refused to pay, the complaint states.

The plaintiff says he spent nine days in jail, then posted bail.

Then it happened again.

Police and the film crew came back on March 6. Again, the plaintiff says, he was arrested and handcuffed. He says police, DEA agents and the TV film crew "were in plaintiff's apartment for approximately 10-15 minutes interrogating plaintiff while the filming continued."

Again, the plaintiff says, the entry was without warrant. He says the "film defendants" had no authority or permission to enter.

He adds: "Film defendants showed, on national television, film taken of Eric McGuirl on January 29, 2009, without obtaining a signed release of him, without blurring his face.

"All defendants involved in the entry of the premises on March 6, 2009, knew or should have known that said entry and activities therein were not based upon a legitimate law enforcement purpose; and were an intrusion to plaintiff's privacy; and constituted a trespass.

"The actions by defendants were intentional, constitute malice, and deserve a finding of punitive damages."

The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for constitutional violations, trespass, harassment, false imprisonment, assault and unlawful detention.

They are represented by Vincent D'Elia of Jersey City.

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