Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy sues WTSP-Ch. 10's owner and reporter Mike Deeson over inmate wheelchair dumping story
A deputy in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is suing the owner of CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 and reporter Mike Deeson, saying the station aired a story unfairly edited to make it appear the officer was laughing at quadriplegic jail inmate Brian Sterner when he was dumped from a wheelchair.
A lawyer for Cpl. Steven Dickey filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, seeking a judgment in excess of $15,000. His action contends WTSP’s story on the incident drew the officer unfairly into the controversy and led to global ridicule when the footage became a viral sensation on the Internet.
The lawsuit accuses WTSP of deliberately editing video of the moment on Jan. 29 2008 when inmate Brian Sterner was hurled from his wheelchair, making it appear that Dickey participated and was laughing at Sterner’s difficulty.
Ken Tonning, general manager at WTSP, declined to comment. But an attorney for WTSP owner Gannett Co. wrote a letter to Dickey's lawyer Nov. 2 maintaining the station's story was a fair and accurate portrayal of video from the incident provided by the sheriff's office.
“The gist of the station’s report is exactly that of the government’s tape: That deputies dumped Mr. Sterner out of a wheelchair and Mr. Dickey – aware of Mr Sterner’s treatment – found something amusing about the situation,” wrote Gannett attorney Barbara Wall, who also said the officer is a public official requiring a high level of proof to demonstrate any defamation.
Look below to see footage from the sheriff's office and WTSP's story. (In the bottom clip, Dickey walks into the camera frame at 1:24, then walks past smiling at 1:59):