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Court dismisses photograph suit

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A man's pro se prisoner suit against the public information officer of a correctional facility and a reporter that he claimed are responsible for his shooting injury was dismissed Tuesday by a U.S. District Court judge. The claims weren't actionable under the prisoner's 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 complaint.

In Shandonn M. Shepherd v. Trevor Wendzoka and Jeff Burton, No. 3:08-cv-605, Shandonn Shepherd filed his suit against Trevor Wendzoka, as PIO of the Elkhart County Correctional Facility, and Jeff Burton, a reporter for the Elkhart Truth newspaper, after he was shot in a drive-by shooting in June following his release from the facility.

Several months earlier, a photograph of Shepherd was released to the media by Wendzoka following a murder in which Tyrus Coleman was sought for questioning. Shepherd claimed the drive-by shooting was in retaliation for his being linked to a murder by the newspaper using his photograph instead of a picture of Coleman.

Shepherd claimed his mother told Burton he had the wrong photograph, but Burton ignored her and published an article with his picture. Shepherd alleged Wendzoka libeled his character and exposed him to risk of injury by releasing his photograph to the media.

However, in 2005, Shepherd had given authorities Coleman's name when he was arrested in an unrelated incident. He was later charged with false informing once police discovered Shepherd's true identity; the photo was never updated with the correct information.

In his suit, Shepherd wanted $750,000 for his medical bills and as a result of his reputation being ruined because of the published photo.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen of Indiana's Northern District dismissed the complaint because claims for slander and defamation aren't actionable under Section 1983, so Shepherd doesn't have a claim against Wendzoka. He also failed to state a claim against Burton because Burton is a newspaper reporter and wasn't acting under color of state law when he printed Shepherd's photograph.

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