BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – The Metro, a free daily paper in New York City, arbitrarily used a photograph of a 10-year-old black student in a “well-regarded charter school” for a story on gang violence, the student and his parents claim in Kings County Supreme Court.
They say he was confronted by friends, family, classmates and strangers so often about the article that he missed several days of school and a Christmas choir recital.
A choir member and student of Achievement First Crown Heights Middle School with no criminal record, Jayden Knutt says he spotted a woman reading the weekend edition of the Metro on his way home from school and saw his photograph next to an article with the headline “Call to Get Tougher on Gang Activities.”
Jayden says he “immediately asked the woman if he could see the paper” and saw a “prominent” shot of his face “peering over the yellow police line,” where he had looked into a crime scene about eight months earlier.
After looking at the paper, “Jayden, shaken, ran home to inform his parents, and ask why he was pictured in a newspaper article about gang violence,” the complaint states.
The following days, “friends, family and members of his church called Jayden’s home to inquire about [his] involvement in a gang,” the lawsuit says.
Jayden claims he was approached so often about the article that he “repeatedly called his mother… in distress and told her that he could not handle being in school anymore.”
“After begging his parents to allow him to stay home from school, Jayden retreated into his bedroom,” according to the complaint.
Jayden says he shut the curtains in his room, explaining to his parents that he was staying “in total darkness” so that “the police officers could not arrest him.”
He also says he walked in public with “a hood tight around his face to avoid being seen by the police and the general public.”
“Jayden still fears that the police will, at a moment’s notice, take him away for thinking he is a member of a gang,” the lawsuit states.
The stress and fear from the photo made him miss nine days of school and his choir’s Christmas recital, Jayden says.
When he finally returned to school and choir, school administrators and church leadership became concerned about his “erratic behavior” and told his parents to “keep a careful watch on their son’s behavior,” the complaint says.
“Once a vibrant, happy child, he became withdrawn, shy, overly cautious, and scared about being in public,” according to the lawsuit.
His parents, Hayden and Jan Knutt, say they wrote Metro’s New York editor Tony Metcalf a letter demanding that the paper issue a clarification and apology, but instead they got a “small type” clarification stating that the paper was unsure “whether or not Jayden was involved in gang violence.”
“The intentional and arbitrary use of the unrelated photograph of Jayden with an article on gang violence by Metro demonstrated Metro’s reckless disregard for the truth in the service of exploiting the racial implications of the photograph in the service of profit,” the Knutts claim.
Jayden and his parents demand $250,000 in punitive damages for defamation from the Swedish media company Metro International, S.A. They also seek an order forcing Metro to “immediately publish and prominently display a clarification acknowledging that Jayden is not involved in gang violence … and apologizing to Jayden and his parents.”
They are represented by Barbara Mehlsack of Gorlick, Kravitz & Listhaus.