Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump is being sued for defamation in Texas for allegedly mischaracterizing a crime committed by a Texas Tech University student years ago in Nashville.
As Law&Crime previously reported, the shooting occurred in April 2017. During an argument, 59-year-old Gerald Melton complained about the loud music and exhaust emanating from a Porsche owned by Katie Layne Quackenbush, 32. At some point, she retrieved her weapon, pointed it at Melton, closed her eyes, and shot him twice.
Quackenbush was tried on a charge of attempted murder in the first degree.
“The only thing unusual in this situation was her behavior and how the defendant reacted in this particular situation to the words that Mr. Melton was saying,” Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Amy Hunter told jurors. “We heard from an eyewitness who was feet away from the defendant when this happened who said that she was not frightened by Mr. Melton. That she didn’t take his words seriously. That the only the person who was dangerous in this situation was the defendant.”
Jurors acquitted her of the attempted murder charge but she was found guilty on one misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment. She was ultimately sentenced to 11 months and 29 days of unsupervised probation.
On Tuesday, Crump was sued in Lubbock County District Court over a tweet in which he relayed an alleged “false statement” about the circumstances and disposition of Quackenbush’s criminal case.
According to the seven-page lawsuit obtained by Law&Crime, Crump tweeted that Quackenush received “[l]ess than a year of unsupervised probation – for committing cold-blooded murder.”
“The statement was false as [Quackenbush] was only convicted of reckless endangerment not ‘cold blooded murder’ as alleged,” the filing says. “Falsely accusing an innocent person of a first-degree felony of murder constitutes libel per se, and actual damages are presumed.”
Quackenbush also alleges that Crump was malicious and/or grossly negligent because he allegedly knew, or should have known, that his allegation was false. The lawsuit seeks $40 million in damages.
The allegedly-offending tweet has since been deleted – but the complaint contains a screenshot of the post.
“WOW!” the apparent replacement tweet reads. “Tennessee resident Katie Quackenbush shot a homeless man TWICE and fled the scene, all because he asked her to lower her music and move her car. Her ONLY punishment? Less than a year of unsupervised probation — for shooting a man.”
Crump made his critique explicit in a follow-up tweet: “Quackenbush received a slap on the wrist, while an innocent man was injured! This is exactly how we know that there are two sides to our criminal justice system: one for white people and another for Blacks.”
“[T]he correction failed to clearly state the error and apologize,” the filing notes.
A notice letter sent to Crump by the Quackenbush Law Firm and provided to Law&Crime presses the point regarding the nature of the correction and its alleged insufficiency under Lone Star State law.
“At the time of this letter, it appears as though you have attempted to correct your defamatory and libelous statement on Twitter,” the letter says. “As an experienced lawyer who regularly seeks exemplary damages on behalf of your clients, I’m sure you realize that your attempt to mitigate damages requires much more effort under the laws of Texas.”
The lawsuit also takes note of the racial dimensions of the tweets, accusing Crump of “racially motivated ‘hate speech’ against whites in general, made solely for the purpose of self-promotion and financial gain.”
Law&Crime reached out to Crump’s press team for comment on this story but no response was immediately forthcoming at the time of publication.
[Images via Nashville PD, Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]