Mugshot drag: Crime Times error raises ire

Nobody ever wants to see their picture in a mugshot magazine, but one man says his concern over a misdemeanor arrest was compounded into utter humiliation and outrage when Crime Times printed his mug with a more serious set of charges. Now, he's planning to sue.

"People called my parents, they called me, there were rumors all over town," says J.T. Suddarth, 46, who was arrested for driving while intoxicated but shocked to find his picture appearing in the March 20 edition with these three charges, two of which are felonies: Reckless handling of a firearm. Discharge of firearm in an occupied building. Possess/transport firearms by convicted felon x2.

"I've never owned a gun," says Suddarth, an Albemarle High School and Longwood College grad who says he'd never before been arrested and portrays the label as a two-time felon who'd shoot a weapon indoors and around people as particularly traumatic.

"The DUI is not a good thing," says Suddarth. "This is 10 times as bad as that."

When his boss at the used car dealership, where he works in sales, summoned him and confronted him with the firearms allegations, Suddarth braced for dismissal. He kept his job after explaining the error.

He did retain the Central Virginia Litigation law firm, and while attorney Dustin Rosser declines comment on any potential lawsuit, Suddarth maintains that the damage is clear. Compounding the mistake, he says, was the fact that he couldn't reach anyone at Crime Times to request a correction.

"They don't list a phone number," says Suddarth, who resorted to asking the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail to forward a message to Crime Times.

While Suddarth says he never got a response, Crime Times publisher Brad McMurray claims he responded quickly by attempting to call back, getting no answer, and then promptly running a retraction in the March 27 edition.

"We ran a retraction the next week," says McMurray.

As for the absence of a contact phone number, McMurray says he removed that option for the calling public. "We had a high volume of drunken people calling after midnight," he explains.

Mugshot magazines have soared in popularity in recent years. Even as free publications proliferate, the mugshot mags typically sell for a dollar per copy, a fact that has recently attracted Daily Progress parent Media General into the business. If the mags offer a chance to see neighbors and friends posed like deer-in-headlights, they rarely offer any follow-through, i.e. acquittals, exonerations, or even explanations.

Despite the controversies and despite the obviousness of Crime Times' mistake about Suddarth, he faces an uphill battle in civil lawsuit– particularly since he was convicted on the DUI on April 16 in Charlottesville General District Court.

"Defamation is a hard case to bring," says Hook legal analyst David Heilberg, noting that while the mistaken charge is "insulting," it might not rise to the level of defamation.

"Times have changed, and there's a lot of insult in society," Heilberg notes. "There's a pretty high threshold, and juries would expect you to have thick skin."

Even after printing the retraction, publisher McMurray offers little sympathy.

"Of the thousands of people that have been in the paper, I think getting one drunk-driving used car salesman upset isn't bad," he writes in an email. "If Mr. Suddarth doesn't care about endangering people's lives by driving drunk, I don't care that his family is upset and wants to direct their anger anywhere but where it belongs."

McMurray further claims that the positive impact of the magazine has been far greater than any negatives.

"I think it's ironic that lately we have received numerous comments and compliments from parents thanking us for 'waking up' their sons or daughters, but we garner attention from this," writes McMurray, noting that he donates advertising space for missing persons and unsolved crimes and claiming he's heard anecdotes of students toting copies of Crime Times to school to "debate in their history class."

McMurray asserts than some of the "Wanted Sex Offenders" whose pictures appear each week have turned themselves in after seeing their mug, and he also suggests the magazine has had a positive influence on teen runaways.

"When we first started publishing the missing children from the area we cover, there would be 15 to 18 recent endangered runaways or missing children per week," he says. "This week there were only two."

Corinne Geller, spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, which tracks sex offenders through a registry, did not return reporter's call. And while the ability of Crime Times to keep would-be runaways home and push sudden pangs of conscience on sex offenders may be debatable issues, McMurray says one thing is sure: his magazine isn't going away. In fact, he says, circulation has exploded.

From its initial print run of 6,000 last June, McMurray says he now prints and distributes 30,000 copies each week from Lynchburg to Fredericksburg, and he's hoping to expand into Fairfax and Prince William counties, where he says he's faced resistance from various legal entities.

"They're saying that the records don't exist and don't contact them again," he notes of Prince William, suggesting he's planning a lawsuit of his own. "We're in the process of taking them to court."

For Suddarth, an avid UVA sports fan and proud father, he says he hopes the courts will help him redeem his reputation.

"Obviously, a DUI doesn't help your reputation," he says, "but it doesn't convict you of being a two-time felon and carrying guns around Charlottesville. That is something you can't take back."

Any retraction, even when printed boldly, which he says didn't happen in this case, can't restore his reputation.

"People may not see it," says Suddarth, "and I'm already proven guilty in their mind."

~

Special online-only editor's note posted two weeks after this story ran: Due to the high volume of calls we have received from frustrated readers unable to find contact information for Crime Times, here it is as retrieved from the pages of the magazine: shenandoahscrimetimes@yahoo.com

18 comments

No getting around it, they goofed! Their only defense in court(and it might not help much) was that it was not intentional and without malice.Might not be enough. Would hope a jury would not hold his DUI conviction against him in considering what they printed as libel.
Years ago there was a weekly here called the Observer, sure some remember it. At one time they were printing all DUI cases. They would get the info from the docket posted outside Charlottesville General District Court.
One time they made a mistake and printed the name of a defendant's lawyer as someone who had been convicted. They managed to wriggle out of it somehow without being hit for the big bucks, but sure it was not easy. Lots of retractions and apologies, and they may have even dropped the feature.

They were and still are very calous about THEIR mistake. He paid for his let them pay for theirs.

The publisher is not a superhero and will be trumped soon when the internet mugshots are finally up and running for free by getting their income from advertising.

This is no diffeent than a false accusation and the publisher has a responsibility to do no harm. He has stated by his own words that he doesn't care if he upsets one used car salesman who got a DUI. I wonder how he would have reacted had this DUI been thrown out for cause.

I hope he pays dearly.

As a former Labor Secretary who was acquitted once said "Which office do I go to get my reputation back?". The damage has been done and hopefully Crime Times will pay dearly. Just as if and when George Zimmerman is acquitted, he can go after NBC and collect big time for their defamation of character when they purposely edited the 911 audio to make Zimmerman look like a racist. Or as Richard Jewell did when he sued NBC and won after he was cleared of wrong doing in the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing case. NBC never learns, it would appear.

The next time Obama whines about college not being affordable for the "masses," and trumpets that we need more college graduates, this guy can be the poster boy for the lack of need for a four-year degree. One certainly does not require a B.A. from Longwood to sell used cars.
On the more immediate point, I would like to ask Mr. Heilberg what constitutes the definition of "the press" in today's environment. Essentially, Crime Times and Gotcha are nothing more that a clipping service that posts arrestees. Gotcha--in particular--seems ripe for a lawsuit because they regularly print demeaning photos and captions. (For example, printing photos of obviously crying perps with the caption "Who's Crying Now?") While humorous, it is certainly not a journalistic endeavor.
So, in the case of Gotcha, for example, could one argue that the very purpose of the publication is to embarrass the perps, so there is malice involved?
For Crime Times, it is more of a straightforward selection of mugshots with names and charges below them There is nothing humorous, meant to embarrass, etc. inherent in posting those. Might not be so malicious in intent.
As for McMurray himself, I can see that when he prints "all arrestees are innocent until proven guilty" in his rag, it is all BS on his part. If Mr. Suddarth is acquitted of the DUI, will McMurray apologize for his quote above concerning Suddarth's lack of concern for others?

R.I.P.: Jack Webb

If his employer had fired him or if he had to have gotten psych help over it you would have a case more lawyers would get into. This article will go a long way in restoring his reputation. There is probably something in the paper the information is deemed correct but not guaranteed. The publisher shouldn't have made the snide comment, be an unknown poster on the Hook to do that.

@Liberalace: Why do you assume that he always wanted to be a used car salesman? Perhaps, with Obamanomics, that's the best he could do in today's horrible economic environment.

@Realist...I thought Barack Hussein Obama inherited this horrible economy from George Bush (the same Bush who caused global warming, who committed countless human rights violations [Sting and Peter Gabriel told me so!], who was eased through Yale because of his connections, who is unintelligent, and who greased the skids to pad the wallets of his buddies in those horrible oil and pharma companies).

R.I.P.: John C. Holmes

Hahahaha i saw your mug shot.

How anyone can point out their own "positives" and try to make themselves look good while totally ignoring the fact that they made someone look bad is beyond me...taking responsibility is something everyone needs to do, if the guy was driving drunk, he is responsible for that, but if the Crime Times editor was mistaken in the charges he listed, he needs to take responsibility too...what makes you think you are above it and have no responsibility to admit wrongdoing? You are profiting off of others and clearly respect for fellow human beings isn't in your vocabulary, get off your high horse and examine yourself...

what's the deal with the negative connotation for "used car salesmen"? This guy really needs to check himself.

These magazines are crass and classless, its embarrassing to even see them in public. They reflect a society whos lost its moral compass and its compassion for its fellow man. Thats said, I hope this guys suit closes down this yellow bird cage lining.

"They reflect a society whos lost its moral compass and its compassion for its fellow man"

Do not kid yourself. The information age is bringing to light all of societies dark secrets and hidden pleasures. Compiling "forbidden" information and presenting it to the masses is making a lot of people rich.

The real carnage is yet to be seen as this is just the tip of the iceburg. Well intentioned enterprises turn ugly when boards and stockholders only start thinking about the bottom line.

You have been warned.....

@Liberalace: Enjoy your "Hope and Change" ! If you believe in it, I'm sure Mr Suddarth can sell you quite a few of his used cars at twice what they're listed for. He'll even throw in the Brooklyn Bridge at no extra charge.

Deleted by moderator.

I am sure this was a simple mistake by who ever does the work on the magazine, done without malice or any intent to defame anyone. While the charges are far worse than drunk driving, drunk driving is certainly not viewed as a great character builder either. Especially since I was witness to my 10 yr old nephew being mowed down by a drunk driver as he was walking down the street with a friend (yes he was killed, his friend survived). In this society it seems anyone who spots any possible law suit or possibility of getting rich over some tired person who has probably had to stare at 1000s of mugshots and charges day after day's mistake. What makes you so sure they even have anything to sue for? I heard it was just a father and son thing. What sort of *justice* is there in a drunk driver getting wealthy of being caught for drunk driving? I suppose you all think that is a lot less serious than a typographical error...... The guy is just lucky he did not kill anyone while he was driving, or he could be facing a lot worse than being embarrassed.

Those who scream the loudest are generally those who need to be watched more closely.

A similar thing has just recently happened to me regarding the same newspaper, involving the crimetimes section.. I think they should be liable and responsible for what they publish!! How many other people has this actually happened to and how would I go about getting in touch with them?..

What's really unfair is people are arrested all the time over whatever, go to court & the charges are dropped = INNOCENT. There face has already been printed in this "questionable" piece of media. Then what? It's a cheap way to make a dollar & I can't believe it's allowed.