Sheriff Marlin Gusman is suing The New York Times, claiming a video it published about a man who said he had been raped at a Louisiana jail incorrectly suggests the assaults took place at Orleans Parish Prison. An attorney for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office filed the lawsuit Friday in New Orleans federal court. (July 13).
Rodney Roussell is also a defendant in the case. He’s the former inmate featured in the video — “The Rape Jokes We Still Laugh At” — that takes issue with the comedic use of sexual assault. Roussell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging he was repeatedly attacked while held at the Union Parish Detention Center in 2011 and 2013.
The north Louisiana facility was one of about 20 in Louisiana where Roussell was held between 2005 and 2017 while serving time for bank fraud, forgery, monetary instrument abuse and of access device fraud, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The state pays local jails to house some of its inmates. Roussell’s convictions were from Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Lafourche parishes.
Orleans Parish Prison was one of his stops, and footage from the former jail and the current Orleans Justice Center is used in The New York Times video. Although Roussell never says in the video that he was attacked at the New Orleans jail, Gusman’s lawsuit claims the video doesn’t make that distinction. Footage shows Roussell walking near the Templeman Phase V building, part of the now-shuttered portion of the jail complex.
Roussell is also pictured standing with the Orleans Justice Center in the background. Blake Arcuri, an attorney for the sheriff’s office, said in a statement Friday that the new jail wasn’t even built when the alleged assaults against Roussell occurred.
“…(T)his video constitutes ‘fake news’ in every sense of the phrase,” the lawsuit reads.
Arcuri added that the video represents “an intentional and malicious act” to defame the sheriff’s office when it has started to show progress in relation to a federal consent judgment. The decree, issued in 2013, called for extensive changes at the jail in light of widespread inmate violence, prisoner deaths, frequent escapes and inadequate mental health care.
In addition to Roussell and The New York Times, Gusman is also suing the editor, producers and photography director for the video for defamation, libel and trespass. Among the damages the sheriff claims are personal embarrassment and humiliation, the inability to recruit and retain staff, loss of grant and funding opportunities, and increased exposure to litigation.
Efforts Friday evening to reach a representative of The New York Times were not successful. Roussell could not be reached through Just Detention International, the organization through which he now works to end the sexual abuse of detained people.
Read the lawsuit below.
– Emily Lane contributed to this report