A Tuscaloosa, Alabama, police officer and a Tuscaloosa County sheriff’s deputy are suing BuzzFeed News and a reporter for “false and libelous” reports regarding a story about the death of a former student at the University of Alabama.
Officer Adam Jones and deputy Joshua Hastings filed the suit in federal court against BuzzFeed and reporter Katie Baker. Baker wrote an article about student Megan Rondini’s suicide after Rondini reported she was raped by a well-known Tuscaloosa man, T.J. Bunn Jr. Bunn was ultimately never charged with a crime, and a grand jury that heard the evidence declined to indict him.
According to the suit, Jones and Hastings claim Baker and BuzzFeed knowingly and falsely portrayed them as acting corruptly during the investigation in the article, titled “A College Student Accused A Powerful Man Of Rape. Then She Became A Suspect.”
The story, published in June of 2017, consisted of interviews of Rondini’s family and friends, who claim she was mistreated by law enforcement investigators, as well as the university and DCH Regional Medical Center.
“The article depicts both Hastings and Jones as corrupt law enforcement officers whose sub-standard and illegal investigative conduct eventually played a significant role in Ms. Rondini committing suicide,’’ the suit reads. “These allegations were contrived, baseless and false.”
The suit goes on to claim that Baker and the editors of Buzzfeed “knew the libelous and malicious content, implications, and insinuations about Hastings and Jones were false. Nevertheless, the defendants published the libelous material with the motive of furthering the defendants’ goal and agenda to sensationalize the alleged elite college campus ‘rape culture’ scenario that has long been BuzzFeed/Baker’s target topic.”
“The articles,” the suit continues, regarding the original article and its follow up, “nevertheless falsely and maliciously alleged that Bunn’s family’s political power, wealth and status in Tuscaloosa influenced the Plaintiffs’ investigation so Mr. Bunn would not face any charges for the suspected rape. Furthermore, the article falsely and maliciously claims that Ms. Rondini’s subsequent suicide in Texas 7 months later was caused, in part, when the Plaintiff officers’ purposefully misconducted the investigation to help Bunn and thereby incompetently performing their job.”
A BuzzFeed spokesman told WVTM13, “We stand fully behind the story and its author, who raised serious questions about how law enforcement handled this incident, it’s treatment and questioning of the victim, and her eventual suicide.”
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