WBRZ-TV fights defamation case involving report on an officer suspended after hanging noose

From Caroline Grueskin at The Advocate.

LIVINGSTON — The Baton Rouge television station WBRZ-TV says it did not defame a former Walker Police officer when it ran a news report last year about an officer who hung what appeared to be a noose over a desk in the department. 

"This is a legitimate media entity reporting on a legitimate matter of public concern, the suspension of a police officer under these circumstances," Chase Tettleton, an attorney for the news station, said in court Monday. "This is at the core of what the First Amendment is intended to protect."

WBRZ-TV was first to report that an unnamed officer, later identified as former Sgt. Mark Fruge, received a three-day suspension for hanging in the police station what appeared to be a noose in February 2017. Fruge maintains he hung a cookie inside a slip knot, which was intended as a joke about prison rape, not lynching.

Fruge resigned from his post in March 2017 and sued the station and city officials in November 2017.

Tettleton argued in court that the case should be thrown out with a special motion to strike. The procedure is applicable in what are known as SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuit against public participation), "meritless claims brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech to and petition for redress of grievances," according to the TV station's legal briefs.

"This is the circumstance the legislature enacted the anti-SLAPP statute in Louisiana for: To protect media defendants like WBRZ from defamation claims by folks that were dissatisfied by the way they are shown on air when those showings are accurate," Tettleton said.

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