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  1. #1
    SBoon is offline Junior Member
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    False Accusations at work

    What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? Florida

    Hey Folks - just joined today, and what a plethora of good information! I came in search of just this type of site today because of something that's happening to that age-old friend of mine . . .

    Seriously, i have a friend who was recently divorced. It seemed amicable on paper - he filed, she filled out her necessary dissolution components, and he was the only one to appear in a very short court hearing. Since then, however, she has taken many shots at discrediting him, especially to his older children (2 teens; we think she leaves the 10 year old out of it). Sadly, this is all pretty much standard fare in many post-divorce adjustment periods. Today, however, things got a little more dicey. Police officers came to his place of employment and informed him that they'd recieved a "tip" that he was selling pot on government property, (he works for the county) and that they were compelled to search his car and office, using drug dogs. He whole-heartedly invited them to do so, which resulted in nothing more than a little bit of embarrassment for his choice of brides some 20 years ago. Naturally, they would not tell him who provided the "tip," which i can understand. What troubles me is just how much of our limited resources are spent on crank calls such as this one by disgruntled ex-spouses and/or others, in some effort to just embarrass or damage someone's reputation. He has nothing to hide, but how long do folks think he's pure if something like this happens often? Are the police required to put this person on some kind of "crank" list or do they need to respond every time the same person makes this sort of accusation? Does my friend have any legal recourse against this person? At this point, he only has a strong suspicion that it's her. He has no other known enemies. Is there any legal way to find out who actually made the accusation? I would think that only in that case could you file anything at all about defamation, no?

    Thank you for even reading all this! I'll look forward to any comments you may have.

    SB
  2. #2
    quincy is offline Senior Member
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    Every time a person files a complaint, the police need to investigate. A complaint itself is neither true nor false, which is why police investigate. The investigation may result in a showing of falsity and the matter will drop there, or an investigation may result in charges being filed. Then a judge and/or jury will determine the truth or falsity.

    There is a certain "privilege" people are granted when reporting a crime to the police (or to CPS), which allows them to report a person or an incident without any fear that who or what they report will result in a defamation lawsuit being filed against them. Fear of a lawsuit could keep people from reporting what they see, what they know or what they suspect.

    Therefore, there is no defamation action that can arise from a police complaint, even when the complaint turns out to be false and/or the complainer turns out to be a malicious reporter of nonsense. The state can choose to take action against the filer of a knowingly false police complaint, but it is left to the prosecutor to decide whether filing such an action is worthwhile or not.

    What your friend could do, if he is sufficiently able to identify the person reporting him to the police, is to seek a civil protection order against his harasser. Should the person violate the order, that person can be arrested.

    And, if he can identify the person who is making the false police reports, and the accusations are made to others beside the police (coworkers, friends, people in the community), then a defamation action would be possible, if reputational injury can be demonstrated (and false accusations of drug use, abuse, or dealing could come with presumed injury and an award of damages).
    Last edited by quincy; 05-12-2009 at 04:41 PM.
  3. #3
    SBoon is offline Junior Member
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    Thank you for such a prompt and thoughtful answer.

    I thoroughly understand the nature of protecting the tipster . . . we'd be a mess if we didn't offer some protection. I guess my friend, though, would be stimied in even getting the civil protection order because he only suspects his ex-wife. Without an actual "confession" or some other form of proof, wouldn't he be wasting his time? This has been the first overt, public thing that we know of her doing to his reputation (although i have personally received some rather scathing diatribes from the woman about her ex, attempting to discredit and alienate him from our friendship). If it's the last, then no real problem. So i'm not sure any action on his part would be warranted at this point. But if something else occurs . . . i think he needs to be informed of his legal options.

    On second thought, using the emails she has openly sent me, along with this suspected move today, maybe he could pursue the civil protection order??

    SB
  4. #4
    quincy is offline Senior Member
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    Your friend would need to identify who it was who called the police, with a tip to search his car and his office for drugs, before considering any action of any sort against anyone. Merely suspecting his ex-wife of causing mischief is not enough for an harassment order.

    As for the emails you have received from your friend's ex, they could be used against her in a defamation action, if what she wrote was false and defamatory and you believed what she wrote about him (ie. your friendship with him ended because you did not want to be associated with a drug dealer, or whatever). If you looked at the content of her emails as fiction (which it seems that you have), the emails would not be very useful to your friend in supporting a defamation suit. Your friend's reputation with you was not hurt by her comments to you.

    If the derogatory and scathing emails continue and are bothersome, you can always block her email address or you can change your own email address or you can tell her to stop with the derogatory and scathing comments about your friend.

    If the same emails you received were sent by her to your friend's coworkers or his employer, however, or to others who may be swayed more easily into believing the truth of what she is writing about your friend, then that would be more damaging and a better basis for a defamation suit. Sent to you, however, I am afraid they are only good in showing your friend how upset his ex-wife is.

    The emails you received, when combined with the police search conducted at your friend's place of employment, on the other hand, could be enough to convince a judge of the need for a civil harassment order, if the ex-wife can be tied to both.

    I think that your friend will discover what most divorced people discover, though. Emotions run high immediately after a divorce and communication between the divorced parties tend to be a bit strained and can often get nasty. It is a form of "cognitive dissonance," where a choice has been made and justification for having made that choice begins. The worse the ex makes her partner appear, to herself and to others, the more satisfied she is with the decision to divorce. (That, by the way, is my impersonation of Dr. Phil, and the result of a couple of psych classes in college )

    At any rate, it should get better with time. If it gets worse, your friend can contact an attorney for the legal options available to him that make the most sense.
    Last edited by quincy; 05-12-2009 at 11:00 PM.
  5. #5
    debtcollector` is offline Senior Member
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    Quincy -- wouldn't the poster be able to access the information via a FOI? A complaint is a public record. And there wouldn't be an investigative reason to block disclosure since the incident was investigated and presumably cleared.

    DC
  6. #6
    SBoon is offline Junior Member
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    Brilliant answer on the cognitive dissonance! My BA is in psychology so i'm very familiar with that concept - i never really looked at it that way, but that makes perfect sense.

    So what about that FOI biz?

    SB
  7. #7
    quincy is offline Senior Member
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    Under Florida's Public Record Law, records made or received by a public agency in the course of its official business "shall at all times be open for a personal inspection by any person," with very few exceptions. And, had a formal complaint been filed, or an arrest made, or charges brought against your friend, these records would without question be open to your friend (or to you or to anyone) for inspection.

    However, if a call was made to the police department, via an anonymous tip line or by phone but anonymously, then, while any records relating to the call would be open for inspection, there would be no information in those records identifying the caller.

    In addition, a police department may redact any confidential identifying information from police records, even though it must provide the record itself. So if the police believe there is reason to keep the identity of the person filing a complaint confidential, it will black out all identifying information on that person.

    And, if the incident investigated is still considered an "active" investigation, all records pertaining to the incident would be exempt from disclosure under Florida law (although the exemption does not prohibit the police from releasing the information).

    There are good reasons to protect the identities of the reporters of certain crimes. CPS routinely redacts all identifying information on records not already exempt from disclosure, and police agency anonymous tip lines would not be effective if the anonymous callers were routinely and readily identified and easily identifiable in records that could be made public.

    It is possible, then, for your friend to request all records pertaining to the search of his car and his office, including information on the original complaint that led to the search, but it is also possible that the information he seeks (the identity of the reporter of the tip) may not be part of the public records he receives.
    Last edited by quincy; 05-13-2009 at 11:49 AM.
  8. #8
    SBoon is offline Junior Member
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    Understood.

    More information came today. My friend called the detective who handled the complaint, who assured my friend that he should not be looking in the direction of his EX-spouse. Apparently, they recieved a call from someone who implicated 4 people at our workplace and it was NOT an anonymous call. My friend was only the second person they'd investigated; nothing has turned up on anyone here as yet. My friend felt that the detective was very helpful and seemed almost lack-luster in his investigation, as if he was possibly annoyed by the complaint. Who knows. Like you said, they're compelled to perform the investigation as long as a complaint is called in, but may have already felt there was something awry about the complainant.

    My friend has called the Central Records division of our county's courthouse and, probably because there is still more left to the investigation, nothing has been filed with them as yet. Again, like you say though, there may not be a name in that report, for the protection of the complainant. My guess is that if they come up with 4 goose eggs on the whole business, we may see a name there.

    SB
  9. #9
    quincy is offline Senior Member
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    Interesting.

    It was nice that the detective was able to eliminate your friend's ex-wife as the tipster, at any rate. No need to make that relationship any more contentious than it is.

    In your first post you said that your friend has no known enemies. It appears that it will remain that way, at least until the investigation is complete and your friend can examine the records made, to see if the person who targeted him for a search is identified.
  10. #10
    SBoon is offline Junior Member
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    False Accusations at work UPDATED

    Well, i guess my pal will never know who the person was who called in his name as a drug seller. He spoke with the detective yesterday, asking how the overall "investigation" was going, and pretty much told the guy that he was waiting for the report to be filed. The detective told him "not to lose any sleep over it; that there would be no report filed." Bizarre. I've heard of no one else at our workplace being investigated but him, but that doesn't mean much; it's a pretty big place. Just odd, all the way around. Thought i'd give you the update. Thanks again for your help.

    SB
  11. #11
    quincy is offline Senior Member
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    It is a bit odd, but I imagine the complaint was discovered to be a prank from a crank and not worth any more of the detective's time.

    Thanks for the update.

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