The TV network A&E is being sued by a one-time gang member who was featured on the History Channel’s “Gangland” series.
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, William Austin -- who was a member of the white supremacist gang Public Enemy No. 1 before becoming a government informant against the group -- claims the network “intruded upon his privacy thus placing his life in jeopardy” when they included photos of him in a Season 6 episode of “Gangland.” The show, which aired April 21, 2010, was called “Public Enemy #1” (also known as PEN1) and was about the Southern California white supremacist gang of the same name, who are known for being one of America’s most violent criminal groups.
Austin, who is representing himself in the suit, says in court documents that he was “a high-ranking member and leader of the gang” who later became “a whistleblower when he testified against the gang’s leader, Donald ‘Popeye’ Mazza for the government during Mr. Mazza’s criminal prosecution.” He became an informant after Mazza, who had a violent criminal history, attempted to stab him to death while another PEN1 member held him down in 1999. Mazza was convicted of attempted murder in 2003 and was sentenced to 15 years in Pelican Bay State Prison, a facility housing California’s alleged “worst of the worst” prisoners in long-term solitary confinement.
PEN1 has been associated with drug dealing, identity theft, and credit card fraud. In 2007, police forces in Orange County arrested 67 alleged PEN1 members after learning of an extensive "hit list" that included five police officers and a gang prosecutor. Charges ranged from conspiracy to commit murder to possession of illegal weapons.
Austin, who now describes himself as “a devout Christian” and is no longer associated with the PEN1 gang, says he “had received death threats and fears for his life” now that his image has gone out to millions because of the “Gangland” episode. He is “in daily anguish as a result of the unauthorized publication of his likeness." Through his lawsuit, he is seeking damages, including "emotional distress damages," exceeding $25,000.
This isn’t the first time A&E has been the target of a lawsuit because of “Gangland.” Previously, Jerry Lee Bustos sued the network claiming he was defamed in an episode entitled, “Aryan Brotherhood.” He claimed he wasn’t an Aryan Brotherhood member and because A&E labeled him one in the episode, it was causing him to be threatened in jail by upset rival gang members. The case was later dismissed.