Various national and local media outlets have been sued for defamation in the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by a Philadelphia man who says the news organizations erroneously reported he had been driving under the influence when he was involved in a 2013 car accident that killed a man dressed up as Santa Claus.
Augustine Bangura seeks compensatory and punitive damages on defamation counts against 13 separate organizations, including CBS, ABC, NBC, the Associated Press, Time, Inc., and the Philadelphia Media Network. He also has accused the Philadelphia Police Department and the Pennsylvania State Police of unlawful arrest and imprisonment and violating his civil rights by not Mirandizing him or informing him that we was under arrest.
Bangura says that a subsequent report of the arrest distributed by the state police contained false information, which was then used by the news outlets and never corrected or verified. The nature of the accident earned the story national attention, with details covered at news affiliates throughout the country.
According to the complaint, Bangura was driving southbound on I-95 on Dec. 7, 2013, when the driver in front of him began to swerve about the lane. As Bangura changed lanes to avoid the erratic car, the vehicle sharply drove in front of him, striking a pedestrian later identified as Adam Herr, 24, of Lebanon, Pa.
According to various media reports, Herr had been dressed up as Santa Claus, having participated in Philadelphia's annual Running of the Santas Pub Crawl. Articles say that he had been hanging out with friends at several bars before suddenly disappearing.
The complaint says that Herr's body was sent into the air and landed on top of Bangura's windshield. The first driver fled the scene and has not been identified, the suit says, but Bangura stopped his car and called the police.
When state troopers arrived, they began questioning and allegedly shocked Bangura. Even though he failed field sobriety tests, the plaintiff insists he had not been under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. When he asked if he was under arrest, the troopers allegedly told him that he was being taken to the hospital for blood tests.
The complaint says that in fact, Bangura was taken to the Philadelphia Police Department, booked and placed in a cell, despite officers telling him several times that he was being placed under arrest. He was released on Dec. 9, but Bangura says that he had never been charged with a crime or read his Miranda rights.
Regardless, the state troopers reported to the news sources that Bangura had been driving under the influence and placed under arrest for homicide by vehicle. That report was the basis of the news reports, and the complaint says that none of the reporters updated the stories with the factual information.
Bangura is represented by Michael Bowman of Bowman & Partners in Philadelphia.
The federal case ID number is 5:14-cv-05057-GAM.