The manager of News-Talk/Variety WMGO-AM Canton, MS (WMGO Broadcasting, Inc.) has amended his lawsuit against the city of Canton claiming that, in addition to violating his freedom of speech and civil rights, city officials also recently sought to have the station’s license revoked.
In the amended lawsuit Jerry Lousteau filed last month in U.S. District Court, he names as defendants the city of Canton, Mayor William Truly and Police Chief Vickie McNeill. McNeill was added to the suit because of alleged actions to interrupt Lousteau’s reporting on city government, reported The Clarion-Ledger.
Lousteau alleges in his suit he was served in May with a copy of a petition to the FCC prepared by city officials. The suit attributes the petition to retaliation by city officials and says McNeill failed to stop it.
“At this time, I don’t anticipate adding any other defendants,” said Lousteau’s attorney Craig Panter. “As to Chief McNeill, I will simply say that we added her for reasons stated in the second amended complaint.”
The city denies the allegations, according to a response to the complaint, stating the defendants’ speech was protected under the First Amendment and Lousteau’s alleged injuries “were not caused by a policy or custom of the City of Canton.”
Truly said he hasn’t received a notice from the FCC on the status of the complaint. He said he wants Lousteau to stop “distorting” the news and “spreading lies” about what happens in Canton. “We’re monitoring Mr. Lousteau,” Truly said. “His news is not in the best interest of the community.”
The initial civil complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in fall 2011. Lousteau wants $2 million in damages and a two-week jury trial is scheduled for March.
Lousteau regularly attends Board of Aldermen meetings and reports the proceedings. The complaint states city officials have physically assaulted Lousteau or threatened him with bodily harm when he questioned their conduct.
The complaint also alleges Truly has publicly taken the position that criticism of him is a criticism of the city’s black community.
Among the allegations in the complaint are:
•At a Oct. 11 regular board meeting, Truly accused Lousteau of being dishonest and the “son of the devil.” Truly announced that he was “a son of God.”
•Truly had a public meeting on Dec. 7 regarding garbage fees but declared Lousteau was not allowed in and had an officer guard the door.
•Last year, McNeill helped distribute fliers that said he highlights crimes, refers to black people as “monkeys” and uses the radio to mislead the public. The complaint said McNeill did not know if the allegations were true.
RBR-TVBR observation: In small towns like Canton, listeners tend to rely more on their sole local radio station for news and information. When the station chooses to air commentary on local government actions, it can get messy. We wonder in this case why city officials just didn’t sue Lousteau for slander. Yes, First Amendment rights are strong, but if what he said was incorrect, then that would be a more appropriate action that what is alleged here.