Henry Davis Jr cleared of defamation lawsuit brought by four officers
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- A judge has found Henry Davis Jr did not defame four police officers when he wrote a letter to the Department of Justice in August 2012 asking for an investigation into the South Bend Police Department's practices. He was a South Bend Common Council member at the time.
The four officers who sued Davis for defamation, Tim Corbett, Steve Richmond, Dave Wells and Brian Young, were involved in the police tapes controversy.
Davis offered two defenses to the letter he sent - anti-SLAPP and qualified privilege.
The anti-SLAPP statute protects a person's right to free speech in connection with a public issue or interest and the speech must be made in good faith with a reasonable basis in law and fact.
In the lawsuit, the court found Davis' letter was protected by the anti-SLAPP statute because it was prompted by concerns brought to him by constituents who questioned the treatment of African Americans and whether there were racially sensitive remarks on the police tapes.
The court says he acted in good faith without malice in writing the letter.
The other defense Davis made was qualified privilege.
Qualified privilege protects a person who has an interest or duty to make statements to prosecuting attorneys or law enforcement officials without being held liable for defamation.
The only exceptions are someone who abused the privilege by being motivated by ill will or excessively publishing the statement.
In this case, the court found Davis' letter involved a topic in which he had an interest and duty to discuss, was addressed to someone who also had an interest and duty to take complaints of civil rights violations or to investigation police practices.
While the officers argued Davis' letter was written with ill will or malice, the court found the plaintiffs provided no evidence his motivation was malicious or reckless or in bad faith.
The court granted summary judgment because Davis' letter also met the qualified privilege defense. He had a legitimate interest, did not excessively publish his letter and had no reason to believe the statements he made were false.
Davis still has a suit as a third party plaintiff against the city as a third party defendant.
Statement from Henry Davis Jr:
Today, the St. Joseph Superior Court entered a judgment in my favor denying the claims of law enforcement officers Brian Young, Dave Wells, Steve Richmond, and Tim Corbett that I defamed them when I wrote a letter to the United States Department of Justice asking the DOJ to investigate the patterns and practices of the South Bend Police Department.
I am pleased by the Court’s ruling. I received a fair day in court. I am also grateful for the hard work of my defense counsel, Bob Masters. And, I am humbled by the support of my wife, my family, and my friends and neighbors, especially my friends and neighbors in South Bend’s Second District, who have stood by me these many long years while this case made its way through the legal system.
I wrote my letter DOJ in the wake of South Bend’s police tapes controversy because I felt I owed it to my Second District constituents to give a voice to their concerns. A council member’s job is to speak up for his constituents even if - and especially when - speaking up may be the unpopular thing to do. The Court’s decision is not just a victory for me, but also one for free speech. Every American should have the right to engage in political discourse without fear of a defamation lawsuit.
When I decided to once again seek the Second District common council seat this election year, I promised the voters of the Second District I would always be their voice. If I am elected in November, I will always put my constituents’ concerns first and foremost. I will also work with our local law enforcement agencies to make South Bend a better, safer place for all residents.