True-Crime Show Is Not off the Hook in Texas

DALLAS (CN) – A Texas appeals court refused to dismiss a lawsuit from a Dallas man who claims he was shot in retaliation for being falsely portrayed as a snitch on the A&E true-crime show “The First 48.”

A three-judge panel with the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas unanimously affirmed the trial court’s refusal to dismiss the negligence lawsuit against Kirkstall Road Enterprises. A&E is not a party to the case. The show follows police investigators during the critical first 48 hours after a murder.

Writing for the panel in its April 27 ruling, Justice David J. Schenck rebuffed the producers’ claim that the show is protected First Amendment speech under the Texas Citizens’ Participation Act. Schenck found that the plaintiff’s claim “falls within the plain language” of a bodily injury exemption in the law.

The panel also rejected the producers’ claim that the Texas Legislature did not intend the bodily injury exemption to apply to protected speech.

“The plain meaning of the text is generally the best expression of that intent,” the six-page opinion states. “The plain language [of the law] excludes legal actions seeking recovery for bodily injury.”

In his February 2016 complaint in Dallas County Court, the plaintiff claims he was shown on the show talking to police about the murder of Donovan Reid, whom police suspected of dealing drugs and of being killed in a gang-related shooting.

The plaintiff says he received death threats “within minutes” of the episode’s broadcast. Courthouse News is not revealing his name due to the alleged threats. He claims the producers failed to sufficiently hide his identity.

“Plaintiff’s image and likeness was blurred in the program, however, his entire body was visible such that his size, height, skin color, clothing and mannerisms were visible to the viewer,” the complaint states. “Further, his voice was slightly altered, but still distinguishable. Plaintiff’s image and likeness was discernible to all who knew him.”

The plaintiff says he was the only witness included in the episode, though detectives interviewed several people, resulting in a “clear inference” that he was the confidential informant who called to offer police information.

He says he was shot four times in August 2015, resulting in 10 days of intensive care and surgery to insert a metal rod into his thigh.

Kirkstall Road Enterprises could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. Telephone calls to its New York-listed number were disconnected.

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