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Akron police chief again files suit over 'stalking' by Beacon Journal reporters

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    NMU         OHIO         Press at Home & Abroad         Oct 8, 1999    

Akron police chief again files suit over ‘stalking’ by Beacon Journal reporters

  • Couple’s privacy suit claims reporters’ trip to Louisiana to interview chief’s wife over domestic violence complaint constitutes harassment.

Less than two weeks after withdrawing his invasion of privacy lawsuit against the Akron Beacon Journal, Akron Police Chief Ed Irvine on Oct. 5 re-filed the complaint alleging that the newspaper’s staff harassed him and stalked his wife.

Irvine and his wife, Geneva, voluntarily withdrew their original complaint on Sept. 24, the day before it was set for trial in the Summit County Common Pleas court. That allowed the couple to re-file their claim without prejudicing their case.

The 8-page complaint is a slightly expanded version of the original filed in May. Ron Kopp, the newspaper’s attorney, said the revised complaint includes new allegations of telephone harassment by the newspaper’s telemarketing system and names a few more defendants from the newspaper, but doesn’t differ a great deal from the initial suit. A trial date has not been set.

The Irvines allege that Beacon Journal reporter Ed Meyer and photographer Jocelyn Williams — in an effort to obtain information about Geneva Irvine’s alleged claims of domestic violence — stalked Mrs. Irvine last November in Lake Charles, La., where she was visiting her sister and recovering from surgery.

The Irvines charge that Beacon Journal reporters continued trying to reach Geneva Irvine long after she refused comment. They then hired an attorney to put an end to the newspaper’s pursuit of her for comment, the complaint says.

“Williams and Meyer then were loitering in the Lake Charles community and took photographs of the resident occupied by Mrs. Irvine and took photographs of the automobiles in the general vicinity,” according to the complaint filed in the Summit County court.

The Irvines claim, “the Akron Beacon Journal purports to be a newspaper, but is no more than an immoral tabloid,” and that the newspaper continued its harassment by placing late-night telemarketing calls to their home.

They are seeking a total of $8 million in compensatory and punitive damages, excluding attorney fees and court costs.

In an Oct. 6 article in the Beacon Journal, Kopp said the newspaper is ready to defend its staff.

“We continue to believe that the claims are groundless and we want to try this case as quickly as the court will allow us,” he said.

The two Beacon Journal staff members did travel to Louisiana to get comments from Geneva Irvin regarding a statement she allegedly made to a hospital emergency doctor last October that her husband had beaten her. She later denied the statement, and a police internal investigation concluded that there was no evidence to substantiate a claim of domestic violence against the chief, the Beacon Journal reported.

Kopp said staff members Meyer and Williams are professionals who followed normal journalistic practices to research the story.

An investigation by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office revealed that the Beacon Journal’s automated telemarketing device had been allowed to run unattended all night and sometimes through the weekend, the newspaper reported. The device dialed the phone numbers of newly-activated phone numbers and potential subscribers, including the Irvines. The newspaper has stopped using the system.

Ed Gilbert, the Irvines’ attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Gilbert himself made the news in June when he wrote a letter to Kopp saying that he had advised the Irvines that they could legally use deadly force against anyone who trespasses on their property.

“I am convinced that if the (Beacon Journal) continues to pursue this illegal and criminal conduct that physical injury is imminent,” Gilbert wrote.

The newspaper has published a series of stories stemming from Geneva Irvine’s allegation of spousal abuse. The paper questioned the police department’s handling of the investigation and the outcome of that investigation.

(Irvine v. Akron Beacon Journal; Media Counsel: Ron Kopp)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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