Connecticut Court Orders Blogger To Turn Over Electronic Devices To Cop Suing Over Alleged Defamation By Blog's Commenters
from the all-the-wrong-that's-fit-to-issue-as-an-order dept
Things are getting dumber and way less constitutional in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Connecticut law enforcement officer. Lt. Vincent Benvenuto — despite being the beneficiary of all the official and codified protection and forgiveness government workers only seem willing to give to other government employees — sued a blogger, demanding the blogger hand over identifying information on commenters who offended the Lieutenant.
Commenters at the We the People Hartford blog — run by Hartford resident Kevin Brookman — made allegations that Benvenuto was a bad cop. The cop sued, and targeted the site’s owner as if he was personally responsible for users’ comments. The comments Benvenuto sued over said — basically — that Benvenuto was a cop.
While an officer with the New York Police Department, the comment read, Benvenuto “was racist so they kept him out of queens and Bronx.” Other comments accused the 12-year Hartford police veteran of sleeping on the job, leaking information and making racist and threatening comments.
Any cop accused of racism who decides to take litigious offense to that sort of heated rhetoric hasn’t been paying attention. Or if they have been paying attention, they’re too thin-skinned to be entrusted with the powers they’ve been granted. To be a cop is to hold an occupation long associated with bigotry and racism. Most law enforcement agencies can trace their origins back to being tasked with ensuring slave owners maintained control of their slaves. The years have passed, but most police activity still disproportionately targets minorities and provides support for the white status quo. So, to be accused of racism is pretty much inseparable from being accused of being a cop.
That summary of accusations by the Hartford Courant is the short version. The long version can be read in Benvenuto’s lawsuit, which lists a whole bunch of presumed causes of action, but none that directly implicate the blog owner. All he did was run a blog. If commenters defamed Benvenuto, the cop is free to sue them directly. But he hasn’t done that. He has brought the blog owner to court in hopes of forcing him to turn over information on commenters.
That lawsuit is a mess. Some of its runtime involves accusing commenters of violating Hartford PD policies, suggesting Benvenuto thinks coworkers who don’t like him are complaining about him in the comment section of the blog. If so, this is something to be handled by the PD, not by litigation. And, also if so, this suggests Benvenuto is the racist jerkwad commenters allege him to be, because who would know better than the people who work with him?
Some really good questions have been raised by this litigation, but only by people who have covered the lawsuit, rather than the plaintiff or the judge. Unfuckingfortunately, the judge handling the case is apparently easily swayed by the pleadings of an unhappy cop who can’t be bothered to direct his energy at the people who allegedly defamed him.
A Connecticut judge has ordered blogger Kevin Brookman — a frequent critic of the Hartford Police Department — to turn over his laptop and cellphone as part of a police lieutenant’s quest to identify and sue anonymous commenters who disparaged him on Brookman’s site.
No doubt this ridiculous and harmful order will be challenged. Almost undoubtedly, the next level in the state court system will return a What The Actual Fuck ruling that forbids the officer from taking possession of the blogger’s electronic devices. But, for the time being, the order stands. And it stands as a blatant assault on First Amendment rights, as well as a complete rejection of longstanding Section 230 case law.
No shelter says the judge… because reasons.
“The accusation of racism is particularly offensive in the context of the Hartford Police department which must not only remain free from bias against its own members but also the public at large,” Superior Court Judge Cesar Noble wrote in his decision.
The accusation may be offensive but it’s up to the PD to dissuade people that it’s racist. Allowing an easily offended cop to commandeer the electronics of a person who did not actually make accusations of racism is a complete perversion of the judicial process. The court is not there to shield the police department for accusations of racism. It is there to determine whether there’s any truth to these accusations — and only when it actually has the accusers in court. All it has right now is the plaintiff and someone the plaintiff has decided to take legal action against, even though this person did not make these claims.
This is nothing more than the court giving someone with an immense amount of power even more power. And for what? To shield the officer and the department he works for from accusations from still-anonymous commenters that racism exists within the PD. This is a terrible ruling and it will only encourage other offended cops in the region to file baseless lawsuits targeting people who should be non-parties. And that’s why it’s unlikely to survive even the most cursory challenge.
Undoubtedly, it will be difficult for the officer to identify the people behind the supposedly defamatory contents. But that is the way it should be. Anonymous commenting should be protected and, indeed it is, especially in the context of criticizing government employees. Section 230 should make the blog owner immune from bullshit like this, but this has been all too conveniently ignored by the presiding judge — one who apparently believes the only immunity worth awarding here is one shielding a cop shop from its critics.
Filed Under: 1st amendment, anonymity, anonymous comments, cesar noble, comments, connecticut, defamation, hartford, hartford pd, hartford police department, kevin brookman, section 230, vincent benvenuto