BIRMINGHAM (CN) – A family received death threats after a weekly tabloid, “Just Busted, Look Who’s in Jail,” defamed the husband, who was cited for an expired license plate, by publishing his name and photo over the words: “Sex Abuse of a Child Less Than Twelve,” the man and his wife claim in court.
Michael and Gloria Lakey, who are foster parents, say they received death threats after the defamatory article was published, their property was vandalized, and they were threatened with loss of their children.
The Lakeys sued Matthew Ross Gilham Media dba Just Busted, its manager Wanda Gilham and executive editor Matthew DeGlopper.
“Just Busted, Look Who’s in Jail” is a weekly tabloid with mug shots of recently arrested people, and names people who are registered as sex offenders or are “wanted” by police.
Michael Lakey says he was wrongfully arrested in 2010 because his payment for an expired tag was never recorded.
“Defendants obtained Michael Lakey’s mug shot photograph after he was wrongly arrested on July 15, 2010, and before, on or about, and following July 23, 2010, defendants included Michael Lakey’s mug shot photograph in a page layout of its July 23, 2010 ‘Just Busted’ tabloid, and placed an ‘information byline’ directly below his photograph which stated: ‘MICHAEL LAKEY – SEX ABUSE OF A CHILD LESS THAN TWELVE,'” according to the complaint.
“Defendants’ July 23, 2010 ‘Just Busted’ tabloid was inherently false, defamatory, and per se injurious to plaintiffs because Michael Lakey has never been arrested, accused, charged with, suspected of or investigated for any crime that involves sexual misconduct, much less the crime of ‘Sex Abuse of a Child Less than Twelve.’ For that matter, Michael Lakey has never been arrested, accused, charged with, suspected of or investigated for any crime or conduct which might tended to suggest or impute he was dishonest, corrupt, depraved, and/or otherwise lacking in moral turpitude.”
The Lakeys add: “At the time the false and defamatory ‘Just Busted’ publication was created, distributed, sold and/or disseminated by defendants on July 23, 2010, plaintiffs regularly provided foster care to minor children placed in their care and in their household by the Alabama Department of Human Resources. Plaintiffs’ activities as foster parents were known to individuals within the plaintiffs’ community, and when such individuals viewed and/or otherwise became aware of the defendants’ false and scandalous information and portrayals as made by their defamatory publication, those individuals predictably became outraged, angry and incensed by the incorrect belief and/or conclusion that plaintiffs had engaging in, allowed or condoned sexual abuse of these vulnerable foster children.”
Lakey says neighbors “began expressing their anger and outrage directly to plaintiffs, through anonymous telephone calls.”
“The anonymous telephone calls plaintiffs began to receive were intentionally harassing, openly hostile, and typically harangued and berated plaintiffs with rude, degrading and/or confrontational insults and abusive profanity. Many of these anonymous telephone calls threatened plaintiffs with acts of unlawful physical violence, by stating, suggesting and/or implying that Michael Lakey would be shot ‘unless he left town immediately,’ or otherwise threatening that Gloria Lakey would suffer physical harm unless she ‘kicked her husband out of the house’ and/or ‘got a divorce.’ These threatening, harassing, abusive and/or insulting anonymous telephone calls occurred with an alarming frequency, and the callers conveyed such extreme levels of outrage, loathing, contempt, hate and anger, that plaintiffs reasonably believe it was only ‘a matter of time’ until the threats of unlawful physical violence would be acted upon.
“As a result of these anonymous telephone calls, and as a proximate result
defendants’ false and defamatory publication, plaintiffs were caused to suffer daily and continuous fear, dread, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, nervousness, panic and trepidation for their physical safety and solicitude, and for that of their children, who would foreseeably be caused to suffer unintentional injury (or other collateral harm) through unlawful physical violence directed towards plaintiffs.
“Plaintiffs’ fear and apprehension was then reinforced considerably, and intensified substantially, as malicious acts of unlawful vandalism began to occur in their yard, and/or in proximity to their home. After these acts of malicious vandalism occurred, plaintiffs received ‘follow up’ anonymous calls that confirmed the destruction, damage and/or defacement of their personal property was intentional, and threatened further acts of ‘vigilante justice’ would follow and/or increase in severity, by inflicting physical injury and harm upon the plaintiffs in the future unless Michael Lakey ‘left town’ immediately, and/or unless Gloria Lakey ‘kicked her husband out of the house’ or ‘got a divorce.'”
The Lakeys seek compensatory and punitive damages for defamation, invasion of privacy and negligent hiring.
They are represented by James Morgan.