The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
In Williams v. ROC Nation, LLC, filed yesterday in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, former Philadelphia police officer Saqueta Williams (sometimes called Sequeta Williams) is suing over statements in Free Meek, a documentary about the criminal conviction of rapper Meek Mill. The defendants include Meek Mill himself, Jay-Z, Wenner Media (publishers of Rolling Stone), and amazon.com.
According to the Complaint, in 2017, Williams was involved in an off-duty incident in which she drew a gun on four women who she says beat her companion. She was prosecuted but eventually acquitted in February 2019. (For a story on the arrest, see here.)
Williams also ended up on a "Do Not Call List" maintained by the Philadelphia DA's office:
The Office of the Philadelphia District Attorney maintains a list identifying police officers who have histories of arrests, disciplinary actions, or providing false testimony.
Upon information and belief, the list divides the police officers names appearing on the list into groupings, classifying the police officers whose serious misconduct rendered them problematic as witnesses and others whose offenses were less serious.
Upon information and belief, the Philadelphia District Attorney directed employee prosecutors not to call some of the police officers whose names appear on the list as witnesses to offer testimony in criminal prosecutions….
But, the complaint says, the List indicates exactly what each officer was accused of; her entry didn't mention anything about "acts of dishonesty or corruption"; and she "was a police officer who was permitted to be called as witness by prosecuting Philadelphia Assistant District Attorneys with the approval of a Deputy Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney." (Indeed, as I read the List, it notes that she was charged for TT [presumably terroristic threats, though the List also mentions "IT," perhaps a typo for "TT"] and SA [simple assault], and the instructions, presumably to prosecutors, are "Disclose Arrest" and "Do not call without Depty approval.")
Yet, despite that, the complaint claims, Free Meek (which premiered in August 9, 2019), wrongly accused her of being "dirty and dishonest": allegedly, in season 1, episode 4,
[R]eporter Paul Solotaroff [said,] "There is a reason why people call this town Filthadelhia."
[Solotaroff said,] "Now there is a new District Attorney in town, and just the last couple of months we have been learning from the District Attorney's Office about a list of dirty and dishonest cops."
[Bradley Bridge said,] "The DA's Office generated a specific list that has 66 names of police officers on it. There have been findings by the police department the officers have lied to internal affairs, to other police officers, or in court."
[During Bridge's commentary,] a graphic of an image of the plaintiff Saqueta Williams is displayed on screen.
This, the complaint argues, "imputes the impression in the minds of the average persons among whom it is intended to circulate that the plaintiff Saqueta Williams was a dirty and dishonest police officer," which is false and defamatory. An interesting libel case, which I plan to watch over the coming months.