Picture this: Man sues 'Crime Times' over mugshot mistake
There's little doubt that Crime Times has embarrassed plenty of people, but one man whose image appeared in the pages of the mugshot magazine after a misdemeanor arrest says the publication did more than humiliate him. In a lawsuit filed in Albemarle County Circuit Court against the Crime Times owners, James T. Suddarth claims his reputation was damaged when, in the March 20 edition, he was erroneously labeled a felon who'd been arrested on multiple gun charges.
The suit describes the published misinformation as "character assassination" and accuses father-and-son owners, Wade and Brad McMurray, of defamation for claiming in print that Suddarth, a 46-year-old used car salesperson who says he'd never been arrested prior to the misdemeanor, a DUI, was a convicted felon who'd rung up a trio of charges for, among other things, firing a gun into a building.
While the paper ran a retraction in the following week's edition, Suddarth contended that it didn't go far enough. Suddarth's attorney, Dustin Rosser, says his client deserves compensation.
"We're talking about damage to his reputation. What's that worth?" asks Rosser, noting that while many lawsuits ask for millions, Suddarth's demand for $100,000 is reasonable.
"He's not looking to ruin anyone or shut down the thing," says Rosser, "but he does think they should pay a price."
Hook legal analyst David Heilberg says defamation cases can be difficult to win, but he sees wisdom in setting the demand at six figures.
"If you sue for an unrealistic amount, that does seem like you care more about the money than about stopping the behavior," notes Heilberg, adding that defamation cases are, generally speaking, more about principles than money.
Just filing the suit presented some challenges, Rosser says, noting that the first complaint, filed May 22, named Crime Times LLC as a defendant when, in fact, that mugshot magazine company, which is based in the southwest Virginia town of Hiltons, is a different entity.
"We had a hard time tracking them down," says Rosser of the McMurrays, noting that there is neither an address nor a phone number published in the local Crime Times, which doesn't appear to be incorporated. In late April, McMurray told a reporter that he doesn't publish a phone number to eliminate allegedly frequent middle-of-the-night complaints.
Attempting to get a comment for this story, a reporter emailed and called the cellphone number that Brad McMurray provided for interviews for previous articles, but the messages went unreturned. In a pre-suit interview, he indicated that the misinformation about Suddarth, who ended up getting convicted of misdemeanor DUI, was not particularly troubling.
"Of the thousands of people that have been in the paper, I think getting one drunk-driving used car salesman upset isn't bad," McMurray wrote 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."
After this story was posted, Wade McMurray responded by email to what he described as his son's "rash remark."
"Just like Mr. Suddarth I have sold cars, new and used, to support my family. This profession is just as dignified and necessary as any other and I am sure Mr. Suddarth is a fine salesman," he wrote, offering an apology to "Mr. Suddarth and anyone else that might have taken offense."
Attorney Rosser says he tracked the McMurrays to a Tennessee address and recently spoke with Wade McMurray to alert him to the suit, which will likely be served on the McMurrays in the next week. Because Crime Times is not incorporated, Rosser says, the publication itself has been dropped as a defendant, although its owners remain.
"We're confident that a jury in Albemarle County will be sympathetic to what Crime Times put Mr. Suddarth through," says Rosser.
–Story updated Friday, July 27 at 12:20pm with response from Wade McMurray.Read more on: Crime Times