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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Student’s ‘Crack Shack’ Reporting Vindicated

(CN) - A Seattle landlord whose properties were referred to as "crack shacks" in a student newspaper does not have a defamation case, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled.

The ruling against Drake and Antoinette Sisley marks the second victory for Seattle Public Schools over a 2011 article in the Roosevelt News called "Sisley Slums Cause Controversy." Drake and his brother, Hugh, had filed separate suits over the article, and the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of Hugh's case in 2012.

The article in question discussed development plans involving the Sisleys' properties around Roosevelt High School.

"Also endearingly referred to as the 'crack shacks' or 'ghetto houses,' these buildings are rental houses owned by the infamous landlords Drake and Hugh Sisley," senior Emily Shugerman wrote. "The Sisleys own more than 40 pieces of property in Northeast Seattle, and have a bad reputation amongst both locals and city officials."

The article went on to state that the Sisley brothers had racked up dozens of housing and maintenance violations at their properties, and that they "have also been accused of racist renting policies."

Seattle Public Schools countered by producing other articles in local publications that named the Sisleys among the city's worst "slumlords" and reported on the properties' poor condition.

Some of the articles discussed the Sisleys' relationship with Keith Gilbert, who founded a white supremacist organization and had been convicted of several racist hate crimes.

Drake's lawsuit filed the same trajectory as that of his brother, with the Washington Court of Appeals recently affirming dismissal.

The brother had claimed on appeal that he does not own any of the properties mentioned in Shugerman's article and that the properties were in the University district, not the area around the high school.

In shooting these claims down, however, the appellate court noted that Shugerman's article was not limited to the Roosevelt district.

"Numerous Seattle newspaper reports describing Gilbert as a 'racist' or 'bigot' linked Gilbert to the Sisley brothers, commenting on, for example, the 'strong-arm tactics' used by Gilbert against tenants of the rental properties owned by the Sisleys," Judge C. Kenneth Grosse wrote for the panel.

The "crack shacks" comment also did not impute criminal activity to Drake Sisley, the court found.

"The article does not say that Sisley runs crack shacks. Rather, it states that the houses are 'endearingly referred to as 'crack shacks" or "ghetto houses,"' Grosse wrote. "Anyone reading that article would interpret the quoted appellations as nothing more than a term that some people use to refer to the condition of the houses and not that the owners deal cocaine from the houses."

Though published on March 19, the opinion was originally filed on Feb. 24.

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