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Suppressing publicity about rape case did not violate rights

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  1. Prior Restraint
TEXAS--In mid-June, a federal district court in Dallas dismissed a lawsuit filed by a woman, the sixth victim of a…

TEXAS–In mid-June, a federal district court in Dallas dismissed a lawsuit filed by a woman, the sixth victim of a serial rapist, who claimed that the Dallas Police Department violated her constitutional rights and those of the news media by suppressing publicity about its investigation into the crimes.

Federal Senior District Judge Barefoot Sanders held that the plaintiff, Patricia Bridges, did not have standing to allege a violation of the news media’s First Amendment rights. Sanders further held that the police department was immune from suit because its assumption — that if the rapist learned of their efforts through the media, he would have changed his modus operandi and thereby become more elusive — was reasonable.

Bridges alleged that the police department violated an internal policy by failing to warn the public about the potential danger posed by the rapist and by suppressing publicity regarding the suspect. According to Bridges, when the police department learned of her intention to contact the media and tell her story, they threatened her and the media organizations with criminal prosecution if they published any information about the rapist.

Sanders rejected Bridges’ claim that the police department’s actions constituted a prior restraint on her speech, holding that the defendants did not violate a clearly established constitutional right.

Bridges contacted the television series “America’s Most Wanted,” which broadcast a piece about the serial rapist. The rapist was arrested after a viewer recognized his photograph from the show, and he confessed to raping five women, including Bridges.

Bridges’ lawsuit alleged that the police department charged the suspect with raping all of the other victims, but not Bridges, in retaliation for her defiance of their order not to publicize the rapes. The court also dismissed this claim, holding that the police department cannot be held responsible for prosecutorial decisions and plea bargain agreements that are within the province of the District Attorney’s office. (Bridges v. City of Dallas; Plaintiff’s Attorney: John Bruce Schorsch, Dallas)