Louisiana Record

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Orleans Parish sheriff names New York Times in libel suit


By Justin Stoltzfus | Jul 21, 2018

A complaint filed in Eastern Louisiana Court July 13 brings claims of libel against the New York Times in its coverage of the office of Marlin Gusman, the sheriff of Orleans Parish. The case revolves around a 2018 story characterized as a video op-ed that appeared on the New York Times site.

Court documents show the sensitive nature of the video in which a defendant in the case, Rodney Roussell, is shown documenting his incarceration for check fraud.

The basis of the case, revolving around a tale of sexual slavery, is that the venue being depicted is different than the one documented in other court proceedings as the actual venue for alleged sexual assault. The court document lays out factual findings such as timelines and locations that show that much of the sensitive and despicable behavior alleged by Roussell happened outside of the Orleans Parish.

In the plaintiff's complaint, counsel for the plaintiff alleges defamation, false representation and trespass.

Plaintiff's counsel is seeking compensation for damage to the sheriff's reputation and the reputation of his office, as well as staff demoralization, personal embarrassment, difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff members, loss of grant funding opportunities, and increased exposure to litigation. 

Speaking to the Louisiana Record, on July 19 counsel for plaintiff Blake Arcuri said the sheriff's office is intent on repairing its reputation. 

“The sheriff's office is seriously concerned about the fact that the jail facilities were used in a serious video of something that happened five hours away,” Arcuri said, pointing out factual fallacies in linking the Orleans department to the alleged assaults. 

“We don't oppose the message,” Arcuri said, referring to the title of the video in question: “The Rape Jokes We Still Laugh At,” in which the video makers intended to underline the seriousness of prison assaults. Part of the problem, he says, lies in the reality that while the parish where the drama actually unfolded is not well-known outside of the state, Orleans Parish is. 

Counsel for the plaintiff goes further in a press statement released this month, which states the following: “The video produced by the New York Times was an intentional and malicious act to defame the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office at a time when the agency has begun making notable progress with the Consent Judgment. Videos like these are seen worldwide, and a false hit piece such as this one which uses our agency’s name and logo to further drive web traffic have a significant impact on our ability to recruit and retain staff.  While this agency has been dealt its fair share of negative media publicity in the past several years, we will not tolerate false or misleading attacks by the New York Times or any other outlet. We will aggressively pursue all damages and injunctive relief to resolve this issue in the OPSO’s favor.”

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The New York Times U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

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