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The family of an Arizona man whose suicide was carried live on the air by Fox News Channel last September is suing the cable network.
Read the complaint here.
According to the complaint filed by Angela Rodriguez, the mother of JoDon Romero‘s three sons, aged 9, 13 and 15, the boys have suffered extreme emotional distress after seeing online video of their father pressing a handgun to his head and pulling the trigger. News Corp., Fox Entertainment Group and Fox News Network are named as plaintiffs in the complaint.
The footage had aired live on Fox News and was seen by millions of horrified viewers. Fox News covered the dramatic events across multiple programs on Sept. 28, 2012, as Romero led police on an 80-mile chase, during which he fired at squad cars and news helicopters. It was during Studio B With Shepard Smith that Romero, 32, exited his vehicle in the desert near Salome, Ariz., ran down a dirt road, tumbled, then stood up and shot himself in the head, to an audible gasp in the newsroom.
Host Shepard Smith, who had been narrating the coverage, shouted at the control room, “Get off, get off, get off, get off, get off, get off, get off — get off it, get off it, get off it!” A flustered Smith returned after a commercial break to explain that the network had “really messed up and we’re all very sorry.” Fox senior vice president Michael Clemente later released a statement explaining that “severe human error” has failed to censor the footage.
The suit states that the local Fox News affiliate successfully ran the delay, preventing Phoenix viewers from watching the suicide live. But it ran live in most other markets, and was on YouTube within minutes. According to the lawsuit, Romero’s three sons were at school during the pursuit.
“Rumor of a suicide broadcast on live television generated considerable buzz among the students at the school, particularly with respect to the two older boys,” the suit reads.
“After school, the older boys went home and began looking for the suicide on the Internet,” the suit continues. The two boys then searched out the footage on YouTube and “as they watched, they realized in horror that they were watching their father.”
Neither of the older two children has returned to school since viewing their father’s death on YouTube, the complaint says. It then quotes an examining psychologist who found them to demonstrate “symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that included flashbacks, repeated thoughts and feelings associated with viewing the video of their father shooting himself in the head, re-experiencing trauma, sleep disturbance, and intrusive thoughts.”
“This psychological trauma is substantial and long-term. It will, upon information and belief, require long-term psychiatric and/or psychological treatment,” writes Joel Robbins and Anne Findling, attorneys for the Romero family. The causes of action are intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The complaint seeks unspecified damages “to the extent permitted by law.”
The case essentially poses an invasion-of-privacy theory, albeit one that’s difficult to prove since Romero carried out his actions in public and not in his home.
Fox News tells The Hollywood Reporter that it won’t comment on pending litigation.
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