Hartford, CT – A Hartford police lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against a popular local blogger to get the names of anonymous posters who have been writing negative things about him.
Hartford Police Lieutenant Vince Benvenuto’s lawsuit doesn’t seek monetary damages – he has only asked for the names of the people behind comment posts on “We The People Hartford” that he claimed were defamatory, the Hartford Courant reported.
The blog is run by Hartford resident Kevin Brookman, who has frequently used the platform to express his displeasure with and opinions on city issues, local politicians, and first responders.
Lt. Benvenuto’s lawsuit has alleged that many of the people anonymously posting derogatory things about him on “We The People Hartford” are actually other police officers who have a problem with him, the Hartford Courant reported.
The Hartford Police Department has a social media policy that prohibits employees from posting about themselves or their colleagues, and says that those who violate that general order may be subject to civil litigation.
“As citizens, we enjoy the right of freedom of speech but not the freedom to defame others. If we are successful in exposing the individuals that crossed the line, then appropriate steps shall be taken,” Lt. Benvenuto’s attorney, Patrick Tomasiewicz, said.
Tomasiewicz said that if Lt. Benvenuto is successful at unmasking the authors of the derogatory comments, they may file lawsuits against them, the Hartford Courant reported.
The lieutenant’s lawsuit claimed that “allegations made by anonymous users of The Blog unfairly and untruly painted the Plaintiff as an irresponsible, angry racist” and several of the comments “openly question the Plaintiff’s fitness to be a police officer” in violation of General Order 3.01a, the police department’s social media policy, if they were written by Hartford PD employees.
The suit also alleged that on at least one occasion, an anonymous poster claimed to be Lt. Benvenuto and wrote that he hadn’t be promoted based on merit.
“The October 21 comment authored by an anonymous user impersonating [Lt. Benvenuto] was made with the intent to injure [the lieutenant’s] personal and professional reputation,” the complaint read.
The lawsuit also listed a number of specific anonymous comments, dating back to Aug. 5, 2019, that specifically targeted Lt. Benvenuto.
It said there was a thread that accused the lieutenant of sleeping during his shift in his official vehicle and another that accused him of “inappropriately leaking police information.”
The lawsuit also alleged that an anonymous poster claimed on Oct. 2, 2019 that when Lt. Benvenuto was a member of the New York Police Department (NYPD), he was “racist so they kept him out of queens [sic] and Bronx.”
An Oct. 18, 2019 comment called Lt. Benvenuto “a complete disgrace to the badge” and alleged that he had “threatened to cut [Brookman’s] throat.”
Brookman’s attorney, Robert Killian Jr., filed a reply to the lawsuit that said his client didn’t allow defamatory comments on his blog, the Hartford Courant reported.
“Plaintiff cites ... Hartford police regulations governing conduct of officers which do not apply to the defendant and the public at large and would not be the basis for civil action against the officers he alleges to have violated the in-house policies that appear in conflict with their First Amendment rights,” Killian wrote.
He argued that Brookman was protected by the news media shield law from being compelled to disclose his sources.
Killian has also argued that his client is protected by the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which offered specific protections to bloggers and those who comment on their blogs, according to the Hartford Courant.
The law says “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" and “[no] cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any state or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”
But those protections might not apply because Lt. Benvenuto isn’t seeking to hold Brookman liable in any way.
The lieutenant’s lawsuit is seeking the names of the people Brookman allowed to post defamatory comments on his site anonymously, the Hartford Courant reported.
“It’s a pre-suit discovery petition to try to determine what the source is or who the sources are of disparaging and defamatory comments made against Lt. Benvenuto," Tomasiewicz explained.