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Defamation suit against community activist dismissed for failure to prove actual malice

December 15, 2016

A Lake County judge has dismissed a defamation suit brought against a northern Indiana radio personality and community activist by a police dispatcher, writing that the dispatcher failed to prove that the activist knowingly made false allegations of racial profiling.

Lake Superior Judge Bruce Parent granted summary judgment to Eve Gomez Wednesday and dismissed the case with prejudice of Joan Gorcos v. Eve Gomez-Villalobos, 45D04-1604-PL-00030. Gorcos, secretary to the St. John police chief and part-time dispatcher, had accused Gomez of making defamatory statements against Gorcos by accusing her of racial profiling.

The Times of Northwest Indiana has previously reported that the League of United Latin American Citizens called a press conference on April 8 in St. John after internal police communications leaked a conversation in which police officer Daniel Kolodziej, Gorcos’ son, told his mother that he was conducting a “Mexican hunt.” In a speech during the press conference, Gorcos alleges that Gomez called her conduct “disgraceful and disrespectful to our race,” and called for her to be arrested, the Times reports. Kolodziej resigned shortly thereafter.

Gorcos also claimed Gomez defamed her in an interview with The Times in April.

Gorcos sued, seeking $250,000 in actual, general, special and compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees. But in his dismissal of the suit, Parent wrote that the police dispatcher failed to prove that Gomez intentionally made such statements with the knowledge that they are false, as is required by the actual malice standard to prove defamation.

Further, Parent wrote in his order that under the Indiana Court of Appeals case Brandon v. Coupled Prod. LLC, 975 N.E.2d 382, 390 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), Gomez was not required to verify the facts before speaking unless she had reason to believe the facts were not true. Parent called the facts of this case a “case study as to why the Indiana General Assembly enacted” the Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or ANTI-SLAPP, legislation “with the express purpose of furthering a person’s right to free speech.”

In a statement following Parent’s dismissal, Gomez’s attorney, Trent McCain of McCain Law Offices in Merrillville, praised the judge’s decision.

“Eve has been vindicated,” McCain said in the statement. “She spoke up about an important issue – racial profiling – and the plaintiff’s attempt to silence her was woefully unsuccessful.”

Christopher Cooper, Gorcos’ attorney, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

 

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