An Indianapolis police officer filed a lawsuit against the NFL on Monday, claiming the professional sports league defamed him when highlighting cases of police brutality and systemic racism.
What is the background?
During the 2020 NFL season, players wore helmet decals "to honor victims of systemic racism, victims of police misconduct, and social justice heroes" as part of an NFL campaign called "Inspire Change: Say Their Stories."
One of the 87 people included in the campaign was Dreasjon Reed, a 21-year-old black man who was shot and killed by Indianapolis police "following a high-speed vehicle pursuit and a foot chase" last May, CNN reported.
The Indianapolis Metro Police Department officer who killed Reed — De'Joure Mercer — was later cleared of all wrongdoing. Special prosecutor Rosemary Khoury announced last December, "This special grand jury returned a 'No Bill.' This term means there is insufficient evidence to indict or accuse Officer Dejoure Mercer of a crime."
What are the details?
Mercer filed a complaint in federal court court accusing the NFL of libel, citing four media creations that allegedly accused Mercer of "police misconduct."
The truth of the matter is that Mercer committed no misconduct... and was publicly cleared of all alleged wrongdoing. Despite a highly-publicized investigation and other information that clearly exculpated Mercer of all wrongdoing, all of which was publicly available and was in fact possessed by and known to one of the National Football League's teams, the Indianapolis Colts, the NFLE published several online statements accusing Mercer of police misconduct. As detailed below, the NFLE published its false statements of fact negligently and with a reckless disregard of the truth; the NFLE's statements are defamatory per se and have caused Mercer to suffer severe emotional and reputational injury in his personal and professional capacities.
The NFL's campaign "gives rise to the inference, implication, and imputation that Mercer committed occupational misconduct and even criminal acts during [his encounter] with Reed, similar to that which were inflicted upon George Floyd," Mercer's lawyers later write in the complaint. "This inference, implication, and imputation is false because Mercer committed no such acts."
Meanwhile, an attorney for Mercer, Guy A. Relford, released a statement in which he expressed support for the NFL's campaign — just not the inclusion of Reed.
"While we support NFL Enterprises' efforts to address social justice issues, Officer Mercer is taking a stand for the many, many good cops on duty across America," Relford said, WXIN-TV reported. "He is standing up for his friends and colleagues and sending a message that before you accuse a decorated police officer of misconduct in a national campaign, you had better get your facts straight."
"De'Joure Mercer is a hero. He tracked down a very dangerous criminal wanted by the police, who was a threat to the citizens of Indianapolis. He put his life on the line and was nearly killed in that effort," the statement added. "He was completely exonerated after an exhaustive investigation into the death of Mr. Reed. For NFL Enterprises then to suggest he was involved in police or racist misconduct is totally false, defamatory and unacceptable. What happened here has nothing to do with racism."
Mercer is asking for a jury trial and "substantial compensatory damages."
The NFL has not yet addressed the lawsuit.