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Court warns reporters to be careful publishing BOLO reports from police logs

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today a worker at UMass Boston can proceed with a libel suit against the news editor at the campus newspaper, which published a photo of him in 2013 provided by campus police - who wanted to ask him whether he was photographing women on a shuttle bus from the JFK/UMass T stop to the school.

State libel and defamation law grants a "fair reporting privilege" to reporters who quote and cite official statements, but the court ruled that in this case that didn't apply because campus police never brought any formal charges against the man, after they seized his college-issued phone and found only photos of the bus, not of any women on it, for the day in question.

We hold that, prior to the commencement of official police action, the newspaper's publication of a witness's allegations to police officers was not protected by the fair reporting privilege.

The ruling means that Jon Butcher, at the time an IT worker at the university, can proceed with his libel suit against Cady Vishniac for the way the paper published a photo provided by campus police in 2013, under the headline "Have you seen this man?" and for posting excerpts from a police log that said he was wanted for questioning about taking photos of women who did not know he was photographing them.

Butcher had initially also sued UMass, several officials and two other students who worked on the paper at the time, but the court agreed with a Superior Court judge to dismiss the suit against UMass and its officials for failing to state a claim and the two other students because Butcher, acting as his own lawyer, provided no proof he had ever actually served them with his complaint.

Vishniac said tonight:

I was not empowered to publish anything on my own as news editor. The managing editor revised my article. It was published by him and editor-in-chief.

The appeals court ruled that Butcher, at the time an IT worker at UMass, had shown sufficient proof he'd been harmed by the photo and article - he had to walk to work for several months to avoid angry-looking bus drivers and he was assigned to a series of demeaning jobs after the incident before he finally quit.

The court said the fact that he initially sought to hide his identity from police investigators, was evasive in an interview with them, refused to provide the access code for his university-issued phone and that the phone did have photos from other days of women on the bus were not germane to his accusations about the specific incident - the allegations for which Butcher claims were all fabricated because he was trying to document safety issues with the bus company that ran the shuttle.

The record is sufficient to allow the trier of fact to reasonably conclude that Butcher has suffered actionable harm. Butcher testified that, after the articles were published, he faced a hostile campus that caused him mental distress and made him fear for his safety and the safety of his family. He also testified that, as a consequence of the articles, he lost the trust of his supervisor in the information technology department, and he was thus given less responsibility and handed a higher volume of lower-level work. He testified that he was compelled to leave his job, forfeiting a pension and benefits package. These harms stem from the defamatory publication that branded him a possible sexual predator to the campus community.

The court added that the allegation the Butcher was surreptitiously photographing women were "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community" that he should get the chance in court to prove the publication was an "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

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Comments

I don't understand whether the court is saying that the accusations are outrageous, with which I entirely agree, or that the actions Butcher was accused of are outrageous, which is totally false because nothing he was being accused of is a crime. Forget about the editor of the campus newspaper; he's just a bit player in this. The blame ought to rest with an incompetent campus police department for wrongly pursuing something that is not a crime, and the University for allowing the resultant abuses against Butcher. They decided to persecute when they could'nt prosecute. It was a witch hunt and people should be held accountable.

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The police and the university are statutorily immune, they can behave in a completely reckless fashion without any consequences to their actions. This is why they have zero accountability.

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The court said the fact that he initially sought to hide his identity from police investigators, was evasive in an interview with them, refused to provide the access code for his university-issued phone and that the phone did have photos from other days of women on the bus were not germane to his accusations about the specific incident...

Did the court decide that those photos from other days were now inadmissible because they'd been improperly discovered?

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Voting closed 8

Knees and wrists too.

Not a crime to photograph people in public, dear. Only upskirting is.

You try to take a photo of a hole in the ceiling of an Orange Line train without getting a woman in the picture - see how this works.

TAKING PICTURES IS NOT ILLEGAL

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Voting closed 12

If you want to take multiple photos of a person then it would be polite of you to ask instead of acting like a creep and a stalker. I've seen old pervs at the Pru Mall do this to little kids despite their mother telling him to stop. They cackled and kept on clicking while several of us intervened till security arrived.

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There is more to this story than meets the eye.

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Voting closed 10

Bullying.

This guy was bullied and he rightfully wants the administration to answer for it.

He did nothing - sounds like he was being harassed due to his wanting safer shuttle service.

Humans suck - that's the "more" here. Pile on and beat down.

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Voting closed 13

Editors, you have to remember to always write "Innocent, etc" at the end of every crime story if you want to avoid libel suits!

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He should just go back on tour.

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Voting closed 10

You beat me to it.

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So….the media in MA can no longer report on the Mueller criminal investigation into Trump until after Trump is arrested or indicted without risk of libel suit if he is not?

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Different rules apply with public figures, which the president still is.

Plus, he'd have to sue. And that would open him up to discovery, and that's something he's been trying to avoid for awhile now.

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Hope he nails them them to wall. I don't see a single thing here that's even remotely illegal:

The court said the fact that he initially sought to hide his identity from police investigators, was evasive in an interview with them, refused to provide the access code for his university-issued phone and that the phone did have photos from other days of women on the bus were not germane to his accusations about the specific incident - the allegations for which Butcher claims were all fabricated because he was trying to document safety issues with the bus company that ran the shuttle.

Perhaps this will expand to a civil rights lawsuit against the police that engaged in this "investigation."

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Voting closed 9

If he consented to talk to them and show them what was on his phone, the "investigation" might not be a violation of his rights. Releasing the results of that investigation to a newspaper might be though.

If someone calls the police about a suspicious person, but that person doesn't describe any criminal activity, the police can still go talk to the person. The person doesn't have to talk back, but on face value, the police can at least determine whether or not the person is a student, works there, tresspassing, etc. Maybe the guy does adimit to taking upskirt photos. Mabye he tells the police he doesn't want to talk to them. If he is on Umass property, I'm not sure whether police have the right to ask him if he is "allowed" there without specific information about a crime or not.

Again, you don't need a "crime" to call the police and at least have them do some sort of investigation.

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I was not the person who published this article. I never had the power to publish anything as a news editor--this was the job of my managing editor and editor-in-chief. Please correct this error.

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Adam basically repeated what the decision said, that the plaintiff has the right to sue you, though in your defense it does not said you were liable. That’s an argument for another day.

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This incident and the recent "profiling" on UMass Amherst bring up the old "Doctrine of Unintended Consequences"

We are told "'See Something Say Something" -- but the Something is left to be adjudicated in the mind of the beholder

The consequence is that perfectly innocent actions which would have been ignored in the past are now "Criminalized" -- and the unjustly accused are indignant -- and for good reason

As an actual victim of this phenomena -- I was "interviewed" by a member of the London Police Auxiliary for leaving a bag while I took a few steps to take a tourist picture -- when I returned to my bag there was the Aux Police who spent some 20 minutes chatting with me. Now since the incident occured only a few months after the Tube Bombing - the jittery nature of the Constabulary would be understandable.

However, it turned out [as I discovered as I interviewed him] -- that a robot was responsible. A camera surveilling the location where I left my bag [near to the the entrance of a Tube Station] gave me a couple of steps of grace -- but I was just outside the OK zone for just beyond the [unspecified] OK time window.

The result was an alarm generated by the computer handling the image data and then the interview by a human. The nice British Touch was he handed me a nice pamphlet which said that if in the next 6 months I was stopped for a similar inadvertent transgression -- all that I needed to do was to wave my pamphlet and all would be absolved.

So two things seem to be apparent from these kinds of incidents -- to make the rest of the 21st Century easier for everyone concerned

  1. The Something -- which you say about -- shouldn't be totally trivial -- it needs to be a substantial deviation from everyday behavior -- thus:
    1. people do take pictures of people as part of just taking pictures -- get used to it
    2. Disheveled, unkempt, somewhat confused looking people are common on university campii and their immediate surroundings -- especially early in the morning and late afternoons
    3. inebriated people are common around bars, taverns, pubs and some restaurants particularly after sporting events
  2. the unfortunately profiled innocent -- should not assume that barring other evidence that malice was intended -- it just sometimes happens that you are caught in the web -- if you are truly innocent and the profiling was done innocently -- get over it!
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Voting closed 9

If you read the lower court documents, this guy was allegedly attacked for taking pictures of a bus safety issue. He was even instructed to do this via union meeting as their contact was up for renewal and they wanted to make sure any issue where addressed before a renewal. He was allegedly attacked by the bus driver. The bus driver retaliated and then filed a false police report to protect his job. All three of which are crimes and zero action was taken to the real crimes. [He even basically had permission, although permission is not needed]

The police only took action to cover up their malice and pursue something that wasn't a crime even if true and this guy proved to be untrue. While interviewed by the police he allegedly requested a false police report be investigated over a dozen times. None of which made the police report and all of which were ignored. If this isn't malice on the police, the university, and the reporters I don't know what is. The bus company was then shut down and lost the contract around a year later [Link below]. More than a half dozen driver test positive for drugs and were allowed to return to work, others were found drunk on the job and multiple speeding and safety issues. [Basically proving this guy correct again]

The only pictures found were of the bus driver that allegedly attacked him and a line of buses broken with students packed in like sardines. Not a single female or student was in any of the pictures on the date of the incident. It seems malice is much too light of a word and monsters is more appropriate. [Basically proving this guy correct again]

If civilians were able to earn a purple hearts and gold stars, this guy should have received the congressional metal of honor.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/05/07/crystal-transport-back-r...

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