News outlets and publishers almost always consider police sources to be impeccable, which is how Jay Dobyns and “Charles Falco” wound up becoming national heroes. But a slander lawsuit filed November 4 by a Seattle attorney named Michael Myers on behalf of the Resurrection Motorcycle Club challenges the reasonableness of that assumption.
The suit is the fruit of a violent incident last August 27. Police and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched a home in Tukwila, Washington for “stolen vehicles” and attempted to serve an arrest warrant on 26-year-old Kevin M. Vaughn. During the search, two motorcyclists – one of them riding a Honda sport bike – fired seven shots at police from nearby Interstate 5.
Police and the Seattle Times, the Daily Mail, two television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group – KOMO and KATU – and television station KIRO described the home as “frequented by members of the Resurrection motorcycle gang.” The reports were based entirely on information supplied by police including a press release that stated that Vaughan was “a known gang member associated with the Resurrection motorcycle gang. He is also a subject of interest in this shooting incident.”
Or Maybe Not
In a follow up story, KIRO acknowledged that it had “received an e-mail from an attorney who represents the Resurrection Motorcycle Club. That lawyer said that Vaughn is not a member and that it’s not a gang, it’s a club. However, all of the information that we received regarding that was given to us by Tukwila police. When KIRO 7 called Tukwila Police, they said they stand behind their information.”
So far, the club is only suing the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Last month, Myers sent KATU a letter “explaining that Mr. Vaughn was not a member of Resurrection Motorcycle Club and asking it to formally retract statements including the allegations that Kevin Vaughn was a member of Resurrection Motorcycle Club.”
The television station declined and, according to the suit, “as a result Resurrection Motorcycle Club has suffered damages in an amount to be proven at trial.” The suit calls KOMO and KATU’s coverage “false and defamatory” and alleges their statements “caused prejudice to Resurrection Motorcycle Club and its members.”
The complaint also accuses the two television stations of knowing and disregarding “the falsity of statements in the article when it was published and when defendant refused to retract the statements that cast Resurrection Motorcycle Club in a false light.”
The club is seeking a “monetary judgment in an amount sufficient to compensate it for damages sustained; for prejudgment interest on all liquidated amounts as allowed by law; for Resurrection Motorcycle Club’s reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees…and for injunctive relief requiring defendant to publish a retraction.”
The club has appointed patch holder Donald “Dry Cell” Colvin “as its representative for purposes of litigation.”
Kevin Vaughn was arrested in Lynnwood, Washington on October 15, pled not guilty to five charges, which do not include shooting at police, and is now being held on $371,000 bail.
No hearings on the lawsuit have been scheduled yet.