VA State Trooper sues blogger for defamation

Published: Mar. 28, 2014 at 1:12 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2014 at 3:50 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Virginia State Trooper filed a defamation lawsuit against a Mechanicsville man after he posted about a traffic stop online.

Nathan Cox claims Trooper Melanie McKenney violated his rights during the heated encounter over Memorial Day weekend 2012.

Cox, an Army veteran, says the trooper wouldn't let him properly record the stop with his cell phone. He posted about the stop online on the Virginia Copblock website. The cell phone and police dash camera video went viral.

Now, Trooper McKenney has filed suit against Cox for defamation.

During the incident, Cox says Trooper McKenney approached his car and immediately asked him to step out.

"I'm asking you to step out because if you have something in there," McKenney can be heard saying to Cox in the video.

"No ma'am, you're not taking my phone," replied Cox.

Cox says was trying to record the stop on his cell phone, which is legal if it doesn't interfere with an officer's work.

"It brings a level of accountability and transparency because cameras don't lie," explained Cox.

In the video, Trooper McKenney tells Cox she wasn't sure what he had in the car, after she says he made suspicious movements.

"You were up there making fervent movements in the vehicle," says Trooper McKenney to Cox, while the pair was outside the car.

Trooper McKenney and Cox continue to argue over where Cox can display his phone, during the incident. The officer insisted he keep it placed on the car.

Ultimately Cox received a minor ticket. He posted video and extensive commentary on the website.

"I do feel like she did violate my rights and I discussed that in the article that I published," asserted Cox.

Legal analyst Steve Benjamin explains the complexity of a defamation lawsuit.

"There are two competing interests here," said Benjamin. "One is our right to be protected against false statements that truly injure us, but on the other hand this is a free country. One thing we value above all else is the right to speak freely, even though sometimes that speech can be very, very hurtful."

An important point about defamation lawsuits is that truth is an absolute defense. If a judge finds that Cox's accusations are justified, Trooper McKenney could lose the case.

State police say Trooper McKenney is declining comment.

NBC12 spoke to the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, Dana Schrad.

"The irony for officers is that they see themselves as public servants and there to help and protect and serve the public. And yet, they often get treated with a lot of derision, so that can be stressful. That can be demoralizing," said Schrad.

Cox says he plans to counter sue.

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