Tech Giants Not Liable for Dallas Police Shooting

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Twitter, Facebook and Google cannot be held liable for the online radicalization of a man who shot to death five police officers in Dallas last year, a federal judge ruled Monday, dismissing the case with prejudice.

Dallas Police Sgt. Demetrick Pennie sued the tech giants in January, claiming they provided material support to terrorists. Pennie said the tech companies let Hamas use the social networks to radicalize and influence people like Micah Johnson, who shot and killed five Dallas police officers and injured nine on July 7, 2016.

Police killed Johnson with a remotely detonated bomb after the 25-year-old former Army reservist shot at officers toward the end of a protest of police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Pennie was not shot during the carnage, but was a first responder. He is president of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation. Rick Zamarripa, the father of one of the slain officers, was added as a plaintiff in June.

In dismissing Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero found the plaintiffs failed to show a clear link between Hamas’ use of the companies’ social media networks and the Dallas shooting. Many similar cases have been filed, usually unsuccessfully.

“Absent plausible allegations that Hamas itself was in some way a substantial factor in the attack, there is no basis to conclude that any support provided by defendants to Hamas was a substantial factor,” Spero wrote.

In the Fields v. Twitter and Gonzalez v. Google, two other Northern District of California judges held that the Communications Decency Act bars technology companies from being held liable for content posted on their websites by third-party users.

Spero said he could not even arrive at that question because Pennie and Zamarripa failed to “plausibly allege a connection between Hamas and the Dallas shooting.”

Pennie’s attorney Keith Altman with Excolo Law in Southfield, Michigan, vowed to appeal, saying the judge should have granted the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint.

Altman said the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) of 2016 supersedes the shield of liability provided to tech companies in the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

“We think JASTA effectively eliminates the CDA when it comes to terrorism,” Altman said. “It provides the broadest possible basis of recovery consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”

Altman said the only limitations on seeking damages for supporting terrorism are spelled out in the Constitution, not statutes like the Communications Decency Act. He said that technology companies like Facebook and Twitter must be held accountable for letting nefarious organizations use their networks to advance terrorism.
Altman also represents the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American woman killed in the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, in another lawsuit claiming Twitter provided material support to ISIS.

“These cases are not going to be decided at the trial court level,” Altman said. “These cases are going to be decided upstairs.”

A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment.

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