Sep. 29—A Kootenai County drag performer is suing the owner of a conservative North Idaho news website for defamation after he was accused of exposing his genitals on stage during a performance at Coeur d'Alene's Pride in the Park this past summer.
The complaint said that Summer Bushnell, who runs the conservative Bushnell Report Facebook page and website, repeatedly defamed the performer, Eric Posey, "by falsely posting on social media and falsely reporting to city and state law enforcement officials that Posey exposed his genitals to the public, including children, at the June 11 event," Posey's attorneys said in a statement.
The Bushnell Report published and circulated an edited video of Posey's performance, which purportedly blurred out Posey's genitals. Investigators found the performer never exposed himself .
"After three months of silence, it is now my turn to speak. Following Coeur d'Alene's sixth annual and largest Pride in the Park on June 11th, an altered video of my performance was widely circulated online, along with false allegations of indecent exposure," Posey said in a statement. "Despite being cleared of all wrongdoing, provocateurs have continued to spread the doctored video of my performance, not only defaming me, but also inciting a backlash towards the LGBTQIA+ community statewide. I have no choice but to take legal action to hold those responsible for the lies accountable for their actions. My hope is that this civil suit puts a stop to the hateful disinformation campaigns being waged in Idaho."
Posey is represented by attorneys Wendy J. Olson and Cory M. Carone of Stoel Rives law firm in Boise.
The suit seeks damages from Bushnell of more than $10,000, as well as compensatory damages, attorney fees and legal costs.
"Bushnell, who owns an unincorporated digital marketing company, published a doctored video of one of Posey's brief performances at the Pride event," the attorneys' statement said. "She provided this video to Coeur d'Alene officials and posted it to Facebook and other social media sites, in addition to falsely accusing Posey of committing felonies and encouraging the public to call the local police department and the Idaho attorney general to have him arrested. Her altered video — which blurred Posey's groin to make it appear as if he exposed himself — was viewed nearly 20,000 times."
The Coeur d'Alene Police announced that they were investigating the incident on July 13. Several people called the department to complain about the video, but none of the complaints were from victims who witnessed the performance firsthand, the department said.
Coeur d'Alene City Attorney Wes Sommerton declined to prosecute Posey after viewing the edited and unedited video recordings of the incident.
"The unedited video recordings do not depict any exposure of genitalia," Sommerton wrote in a June 30 statement. "The allegations of indecent exposure, or other crimes cannot be supported by the evidence."
The doctored video of Posey was also used in a propaganda video circulated by the white supremacist organization Patriot Front. Thirty-one members of the group were arrested in Coeur d'Alene during the Pride in the Park event after authorities discovered them in the back of a U-Haul equipped with riot gear seemingly en route to disrupt the event. They are awaiting trial.
The Bushnell Report shared the video of Posey's performance on its Facebook page a day after the Pride event, saying "Can this guy be arrested for exposing his genitals to minors? Let's go big and hold all of the extremists accountable."
The post provided contact information for the Coeur d'Alene Police Department and Idaho Attorney General's Office, and requested that its viewers contact them.
The video has more than 19,000 views.
Bushnell lied to her audience to gain popularity on social media at the expense of Posey, who has continued to suffer as a result months later, the complaint said. In Facebook comments, Bushnell claimed to have also seen the unedited video, according to the lawsuit.
Posey was wearing shorts under a leotard, as well as tights, undergarments and a boa wrapped around his waist, the lawsuit said. He never removed any of his clothing and his genitals were always completely covered, it said.
Unknown people later spread flyers in Coeur d'Alene that depicted the doctored image of Posey. The Bushnell Report's claims were later used to spread misinformation about a kids drag show at the Boise Pride Festival, "further injuring Posey's reputation and further exposing him to hatred, contempt, and ridicule," the lawsuit said.
"Bushnell's false statements had their intended effect — thousands of people across the nation viewed her posts and many of them believe Posey committed a serious crime," Olson said. "Flyers with Bushnell's doctored photo were posted throughout Coeur D'Alene and he has endured public harassment, hatred, contempt, and ridicule. Bushnell lied to gain popularity on social media, but the publicity she received was not free; it came at the expense of Posey's reputation and emotional wellbeing. Mr. Posey is eager to set the record straight."
Bushnell declined to comment on Wednesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Bushnell Report posted on its Facebook page: "It's interesting when I haven't been served papers regarding a lawsuit, but a press release is out and the mainstream media is already writing about it and taking a side."
In his statement, Posey said that he was grateful for community members and officials in the Coeur d'Alene area who have supported him.