MILWAUKEE (CN) - A Milwaukee TV station defamed a police officer to try to boost ratings during sweeps week, the officer claims in a lawsuit against WTMJ-TV Channel 4 and the Journal Broadcast Group.
Matthew Knight sued the TV companies in Milwaukee County Court.
He claims they repeatedly broadcast teaser ads about him, implying misconduct and criminal activity, though they knew he had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Knight claims WTMJ began running a surveillance video of him in uniform counting cash with a citizen at an ATM - several weeks after the TV station knew that Internal Affairs had exonerated him of any crime.
"It's the video that will have everyone talking," WTMJ said in its teaser ad. "A Milwaukee police officer taking a man's cash out of an ATM then walking off with that cash. What's really going on? The explosive I TEAM investigation Monday night at 10 on Today's WTMJ 4."
Knight claims the video shows him responding to a police call about a smashed taxicab window. The cabbie did not want to press charges so long as the man who did it paid him $300 for the property damage. Knight escorted the man to an ATM to get the money, and the man paid the cabbie, who "signed off on Officer Knight's memo book attesting to this outcome," according to the complaint.
A bank security thought the video looked suspicious, and reported it to the FBI and the WTMJ, Knight says. Neither the bank nor the guard are parties to the complaint.
The Police Department investigation was closed "with a finding that there was no misconduct in public office, as all of Officer Knight's actions were lawful and within the rules of the MPD," according to the complaint.
WTMJ 4 got another copy of the video from an its open records request - with a complete copy of the Internal Affairs investigation exonerating him, Knight says in the complaint. But the very next day, he says, it began teasing the defamatory story.
He claims the station ran the video with slanted comments repeatedly, "knowingly defaming (Knight's) professional reputation and character under false pretenses."
In another teaser, the TV station said: "There are a lot of questions that forced the MPD to launch an internal investigation. Exactly what is happening here? It looks like a Milwaukee police officer is walking off with cash from a man they have in custody. So what is the department saying? The explosive I TEAM investigation tonight at 10."
Knight claims the bogus teasers prompted Police Chief Edward Flynn to hold a news conference refuting the allegations. Flynn said that Knight had not only acted appropriately, but had been "decorated by the MPD for bravery, was a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, was a Big Brother, and coached basketball," according to the complaint.
Even that didn't stop the station, Knight says. He claims WTMJ 4 rebroadcast the story more than once. Its reporter said on the air: "'(F)or weeks we have been asking Chief Flynn to sit down and talk to us about what happened in this video today. He spoke accusing us of making up a story but we can't forget a concerned resident gave us this questionable video because he didn't trust MPD to get to the bottom of it. He wanted us to hold Milwaukee police accountable," according to the complaint.
Knight claims the station broadcast and rebroadcast the defamatory story solely for the purpose of gaining ratings for sweeps week. He seeks punitive damages for defamation.
He is represented by William Rettko, of Brookfield, Wisc.