Orlando Police Chief Threatens Critical Blogger, Saying Truth Isn't A Defense

from the oh-really? dept

We’ve seen plenty of government officials get upset about various things critics have said about them, and Tim writes in to let us know that down in Orlando, Florida, the local police chief is threatening to sue a web critic who put up a site highlighting how the chief had her gun stolen from her car, and then that news was kept secret for a while. While there are some complications here (the site the blogger is using is the chief’s name, ValDemings.com, for example), it’s hard to see how there’s any defamation here at all, despite the Chief’s claims. She does claim that he portrayed the situation in “false light,” but as the article notes, the Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that “false light isn’t a legitimate cause of action and has the potential to chill free speech.”

But what may be most scary is the following quote from Demings’ attorney:

“Truth is not always a defense. I hope he [Harris] gets himself a really good lawyer.”

While it’s true that some have been trying to push the boundaries of libel law to get rid of “truth” as an absolute defense, that troubles most people, and it’s hardly common. Of course, in the meantime, in trying to shut up this blogger, Demings seems to be doing a great job kicking up a lot of attention about the fact she lost her gun…

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Comments on “Orlando Police Chief Threatens Critical Blogger, Saying Truth Isn't A Defense”

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BTR1701 says:

Re: Re: fair libel trial?

> No judge is going to rule against the police
> chief in a trial like this. Any judge who
> did so would find that the police would
> start pulling him/her over for the most
> minor traffic infractions and giving out
> multiple tickets.

Not likely. As a cop myself I can tell you that no one I’ve ever known has gotten into a pissing contest with a judge. It’s pretty much a no-win scenario for a cop.

You think the cops are going to start harassing the judge with tickets for an adverse ruling? Welll, where do you think those tickets go for adjudication? Yep, the courts. And who do you think has more friends and connections in the court system– a judge or a cop? Add to that the fact that a judge has the power to issue warrants and sanction and incarcerate for things like contempt of court and any cop who harrasses a judge is in for a surprise.

Cops get slapped down by judges all the time. Judges aren’t afraid to do it and cops certainly don’t start waging wars of harassment against them when it happens.

Avatar28 says:

Re: Re: Re: fair libel trial?

I’m not a cop and I thought the same thing. *shrug* I think that if the trial is in Orlando that the judge will side with the chief not because he/she is afraid of her but because they’re sort of on the same team and are likely to be friends or at least know each other fairly well. More of a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours type setup really.

BTR1701 says:

Re: Re: Re:2 fair libel trial?

> I think the judge will side with the chief
> not because he/she is afraid of her but
> because they’re sort of on the same team
> and are likely to be friends or at least
> know each other fairly well. More of a
> you scratch my back and I’ll scratch
> yours type setup really.

That might be true if this were a criminal case, but a defamation case is civil, which means a whole different pool of judges are involved– judges who rarely ever interact with the police department.

The police chief is unlikely to even know very many civil court judges, let alone pull favors from them. And from the judge’s perspective, there wouldn’t be any real reason to expect the police chief to be able to “scratch his back” in the future in return for a favor, since a civil court judge doesn’t deal with police issues at all.

And when it’s all said and done, the case is decided by a jury anyway, not a judge.

Lucy and Ricky says:

This news snippet should be enough to scare every American. “Truth is not always a defense. I hope he [Harris] gets himself a really good lawyer.” I’ll stay the hell away from Orlando with my tourist dollars. Sh-t flows from the top down, and if this is the chief’s attitude, what about the cops who work for her? Am I going to get pulled over by some crooked Orlando cop who wants a bribe or a feel-up in exchange for staying out of jail?

Dave in Chicago says:

Crooked cops in Orlando? Say it isn't so.

In case anyone is wondering whether or not there are any crooked cops in Orlando I can tell you that the answer is yes. I had an Orlando officer tell me “you have no idea how many blow jobs I get on this job. You find some young kids making out, you scare the shit out of them and they’ll both blow you to let them go.” No kidding. I was stunned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Crooked cops in Orlando? Say it isn't so.

I really think this police chief should be investigated. Not for losing her gun – who the f really cares about that, but for her behavior towards this blogger, and her over reaction to being criticized. It’s a sign that something is rotten inside Orlando law enforcement, if this woman is the leader of the pack.

thomas (profile) says:

Re: Crooked cops in Orlando? Say it isn't so.

All they need is one kid with a hidden video camera plus one parent plus one lawyer plus TV news and boy would that be a mess. Picture a 16 year old girl being targeted, she has a video camera hidden. Now the officer is guilty of forcible rape of a minor and considering ‘both’ implies boy and girl, that’s even nastier in public. He’d go to jail for a long time. It would be the end of the police chief’s job too.

Avatar28 says:

And another thing

It was published in the freaking local paper for crying out loud. The story even says as much that it was leaked to said local paper. I wasn’t able to find it on the Orlando Sentinel’s website though. The first I could find was an article about Mr Harris offering a reward for the chief’s stolen gun. Still, are they going to sue the paper too?

Malcolm Patten (user link) says:


We call the cops over here “WoodenTops” and with good reason in some cases. And now there is a law that allows prosecution of an individual who takes a photograph or films police action or police non action… Plus, in our Magistrates Court, the lowest tier in the court system, it is allowable to prosecute and convict with no evidence or even evidence to the contrary, if supported by a police statement ie Guilty even if innocent.

It is common for a Brit to turn their noses up at the lunacy of Yanks in office ~ banning Yusuf Islam aka Cat Stevens from the US for example. What we should admit to ourselves is that the inherent decency of the American people will not allow true excess to run for very long. So, I am with the general tenor of comment on here and it is no wonder that there are shed loads of jokes about lawyers in the US. With regard to one comment above, the Spanish have a succinct phrase for people good or bad at the top. “Fish rot from the head downwards”.

Keep faith in The American Dream for a better world. You have elected a straight president and that means honest for those of you obsessed with gay rights so, do not let your police chief get away with this nonsense.



Tgeigs says:

Re: WoodenTops

Dear Malcolm:

I generally have a great amount of respect for the British people. Your government, however, enjoys pooping on you. I recommend getting a new one.

And while I, for one, appreciate your kind sentiments about America, don’t discard our downpoints either. It’s only because we detest the worst of us that we’re able to purge some of what’s wrong in our system. And I vehemently mean SOME.

On a side note, I do so enjoy watching your guys’ house of commons. The images of elected officials screaming at one another and generally being obscene strikes me as more honest than our nicities and politeness. Plus it makes for fantastic TV.

PS. You’re keeping Madonna. As soon as you didn’t kill her for adopting your accent, she became yours.

PPS. Fine, we’ll take her back. But only if you promise to burn Amy Winehouse at the stake. Deal?

Here’s to the Queen,


Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Truth as an absolute defense

I really like Techdirt, and find Michael’s comments to be especially good and relevant, but this article does illustrate the problems with non-lawyers trying to interpret the law!
However, if we restate it by saying “truth should be, and likely will be, an absolute defense in the case cited”, now we are on sound ground, and I agree with that statement.

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