Elderly Couple In Hiding After Spike Lee Wrongly Tells Followers That Zimmerman Lives At Their Address

An elderly Florida couple in Sanford, Florida is living through a nightmare after director Spike Lee sent their address to his 250,000 followers on Twitter — wrongly stating that this was the address of George Zimmerman, the man who killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, in Florida. It was a uniquely stupid act by Lee and invited the very type of vigilante response that Zimmerman has been accused of. The question is whether there is liability for such negligence as David McClain, 72, and his wife Elaine, 70, live in fear of threats and packages arriving at their home.

While many have raised important questions of regarding the racial and legal aspects of this tragedy, some have responded in a reckless manner. The most obvious is a small group of individuals calling themselves the New Black Panther putting a bounty on the head of Zimmerman. None of us can stop people using a tragedy like this for crime, but these are incidents that involve reckless and grossly negligent conduct.

The abuse reportedly began with a Los Angeles man shown here named Marcus Davonne Higgins, 33, and goes by the online name “maccapone.” Higgins sent the address with the instruction that “EVERYBODY REPOST THIS.” He added “Like the fat punk he is, he still lives at home with mommie & daddy.” He added on Facebook “FEEL FREE TO REACH OUT & TOUCH HIM.” Higgins, however, was not done. He proceeded to appear on the streets in protests with a sign with Zimmerman’s supposed name, address, and phone number. What is remarkable is that he put so much effort into distributing the information and little effort in confirming it.

In reality, Higgins began with a simple error. He had found the address of “George W. Zimmerman.” Martin was shot by George Michael Zimmerman. William Zimmerman is the son of the elderly couple and is listed on these records as a much older man than the shooter in Florida. The Zimmerman family reported reached out to the California man not to tweet the address and he reportedly responded “Black power all day. No justice, no peace” along with an obscenity.

Ironically, once his own name came out, Higgins has not responded to numerous inquiries. No one has released his telephone or address.

The most obvious question is whether the couple could sue Higgins and Lee. There is obvious negligence here and obvious injury. Putting aside the failure to take reasonable steps to confirm the information, the purpose of releasing this information is clearly to harass the individual or worse. It is clearly foreseeable that someone would use the information to try to harm the occupants. Indeed, people showed up at the door of the elderly couple.

One similar case that comes to mind involved a slightly different issue. Generally, internet sites have been given immunity under the Communications Decency Act, which has been used repeatedly by Web providers to bar liability. Yet, this does not prevent lawsuits that sue John Does and seek discovery from the sites to determine the identity of anonymous posters. There have been a slew of lawsuits over such postings, here and here and here.
These cases highlight the protection given to Internet companies like Craigslist and Facebook from defamation lawsuits. Under a federal law and the ruling in Zeran. The Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of the 1996 Act gives protections to online service providers from being sued for the actions of others. That section states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Kenneth Zeran sued America Online for negligence. On April 25, 1995, an unidentified person posted a message on an AOL bulletin board advertising “Naughty Oklahoma T-shirts.” It was a prank that featured offensive products about the Oklahoma bombing and told interested buyers to call “Ken” at Zeran’s home phone number in Seattle. Zeran notified AOL in a series of telephone calls and letters about the bogus posting. But AOL allegedly refused to take down the material. Then the prankster put more messages on the site from Ken, not only producing more calls but leading an announcer for the Oklahoma radio station KRXO to read the messages and encouraged listeners to call Zeran.

The Fourth Circuit held that Section 320 blocked any liability, even if AOL was informed of the falsity and harmfulness of the information. It was a very harsh decision and it is not clear that the federal law was truly intended to protect these companies for any liability under any circumstance for false and harmful postings.

This is different in that the McClain know the names of the posters and can sue to straight negligence, including the failure to take reasonable steps once they learned of the error to inform “friends” of the error. This is more than just getting a name wrong or a face wrong. This was a deliberate attempt to encourage people to contact these people. Even if it was the real information for the shooter in Florida it was irresponsible. Courts have held people liable for the intentional tortious or criminal actions of third parties. In the Weirum v. RKO decision holding a radio station liable for injuries caused to a third party when teenagers drove recklessly to find The Real Don Steele in his marked van. The court held that the reckless driving was a foreseeable response of teenagers to the promise of free concert tickets. It is certainly foreseeable that in this super-heated controversy over the Martin shooting, some would be motivated to take violent retaliation. That is certainly the case the bounty offered by the New Black Panthers — a close analogy to Weirum.

I believe that a viable tort action could be brought by the couple to include negligence and the negligent infliction of emotional distress. That would include an action against Lee who should “Do The Right Thing” and work equally hard to make amends to this elderly couple.

Source: Smoking Gun

34 thoughts on “Elderly Couple In Hiding After Spike Lee Wrongly Tells Followers That Zimmerman Lives At Their Address”

  1. I’ve had a bellyful of vigilantism — there’s more of it going on than many realize. It’s time to get it to the fore and rout it out, to the degree possible. It’s destroying us from within. And what Frankly said.

    An extreme example of vigilantism:

    China’s Cyberposse

    By TOM DOWNEY
    Published: March 3, 2010

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/magazine/07Human-t.html?pagewanted=all

    Excerpt:

    “Human-flesh search engines — renrou sousuo yinqing — have become a Chinese phenomenon: they are a form of online vigilante justice in which Internet users hunt down and punish people who have attracted their wrath. The goal is to get the targets of a search fired from their jobs, shamed in front of their neighbors, run out of town. It’s crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results.”

  2. There could be only one motive for publishing this address, that is, someone would take action against the person who lives there. This is clearly a case of reckless endangerment. While Mr. Zimmerman’s action was vile and criminal, Mr. Lee’s action cannot be excused. If justice is supposed to be blind the should be two sets of law enforcement officers on the road to make arrests one for Mr Zimmerman and one for Mr. Lee. Criminal liability can be assessed at trial the way it is supposed to be.

    As to his civil liability, Mr Lee should not wait to be sued he should immediately take steps to relocate these unfortunate people and to provide them with security. He should ” do the right thing” without being forced to do so.

  3. What Spike Lee and the other guy did are idiotic and reprehensible. But does the elderly couple really have a negligence claim?

    Where’s the duty? Is there a duty to not publicly disseminate another person’s (publicly available) address?

  4. Is this the same Spike Lee, who stated as fact that the United States government dynmamited the levees to destroy the black people in the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans? Is this the Same Spike Lee who sued Spike TV for stealing his name and image (because we all know Spike Lee was know for endlessly running re-runs of “Road House” and “Star Wars”, and his strong connection to mixed martial arts competitions)? Is this the same Spike Lee who said black people can’t be racist? What a f_ _cking joke he is. Only this time he’s actually going to get some one hurt. I wish I lived in Florida. I’d do this case pro bono.

    “If there are any ills that democracy is suffering from today, they can only be cured by more democracy.” Al Smith 1923.

    Substitute, “racism” or “stupidity”, for the word democracy and one can sum up Mr. Lee’s political philosophy. I wait with baited breath for US Atty. Holder to go after the New Black Panthers (weren’t these the guys with baseball bats outside Philadelphia voting stations a few years ago?)

    p.s. Malisha, “I hope someone quickly identifies the actual REAL address where Zimmerman lived so there will be no more confusion” ???Vigilante justice is o.k. as long as we get the right guy? Nice. You realize there’s a possibility some of the blacks lynched in the bad old days may have actually committed crimes. Does that justify the racist white mobs who lynched them? Sometimes the legal system can be frustrating, that doesn’t mean it’s wise to scrap the entire system when ever we’re angry.

  5. JC
    Grab your torch and let’s pick some honky.

    To ALL,
    JT gives y’all who CAN to analyze these scenes drawn from RL, not fully specified with facts, but still in a reasonable analogy to that found by a lawyer. Then it’s your turn.
    We, not being lawyers, are left to do our thing (unspecified and unimportant for now).
    But those of the NBLs, who would like to read more of the basics, where do we go to find: “He could be said to have put in motion the 4 basic tort elements” as a concept to explore?
    It might serve as a soporific for some, and a useful enlightener for others.

    In short:
    Where the fuck should I go to find more legal on this, eagle?

  6. Well, it’s REAL easy to stop this kind of thing from happening. Just arrest the murdering SOB Zimmerman, and these people won’t feel the need for vigilantee-ism. See how easy that is? But nol. Racism rules and Zimmerman is still out and I’m sure there will be other victims who’ll pay the price for the injustice system allowing a murder to roam free. There you go. How’s racism working for you now?

  7. There is certainly liability for his horrible movies and his narcissism(remember “Spike” TV???)!!! What a pretentious dolt.

  8. I agree that Mr. Lee clearly has exposure to tort liability. He cannot deny that the sole purpose of his publication was to provoke a confrontation, and he was certainly aware of the angry and hostile climate surrounding the shooting. He essentially issued an invitation to a lynching.

  9. Frankly is correct. Add to this the listing of abortion providers/clinics and even women who the nutzo’s “believe” might have had or even thought about having the procedure. There ought to be a law or can we rely on stand your ground?

  10. One of the worst aspects of modern communications is its ability to set the flying monkeys loose. Michelle Malikin has done this several times most notably but several others of her ilk have done this too. This is inexcusable. Even if he had given out the correct address nothing good can come of it. Its an invitation to violence. When someone is killed or hurt the originator will get all scrunched up and cry “Who could have known?”

    Anyone with half a brain or more could have known.

  11. I do think that spike has one of those oh shit moments……he can’t claim artist creation or differences….. He could be said to have put in motion the 4 basic tort elements……

  12. Horrible for these folks. Now they have to be afraid of everyone and they have done nothing wrong. It’s the kind of thing that happens to members of a despised minority even though individual members of that minority have done nothing to deserve it. It also happens to people deliberately targeted by the courts. I hope these elderly people will speak out about what it has done to their lives, and I hope someone quickly identifies the actual REAL address where Zimmerman lived so there will be no more confusion; obviously, the address where Zimmerman really DID live is now unoccupied and the fear of harm coming to its tenants is low.

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