News Corp. (NWSA:US)’s New York Post was sued by a high school student and a 24-year-old man who claim a front-page photograph of them at the Boston Marathon finish line before it was bombed falsely implied they were suspects.
The lawsuit over the newspaper’s April 18 edition, which said “BAG MEN” in large block letters over the image, was filed yesterday in Massachusetts state court in Boston by Salaheddin Barhoum, 16, and Yassine Zaimi, 24.
The men, both permanent U.S. residents, say they’re avid runners who attended the April 15 marathon to watch the elite competitors cross the finish line and left two hours before the bombs exploded, killing three and injuring more than 260 people. They were never sought by authorities, they said.
The Post “stated or implied that the plaintiffs were the perpetrators of the bombing; that they were suspects in the bombing; that they were being sought by law enforcement; and that photographs of them were being circulated” by police, the men alleged. “None of these statements were true.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is accused of carrying out the attack with his brother Tamerlan, 26, who died after a shootout with police. No other suspects have been named by authorities. Tsarnaev, who is recovering from wounds, is scheduled to make his first public court appearance on July 10.
By April 17, the day before the Post article was published, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had already found images of the Tsarnaev brothers and was seeking to identify them as the main suspects, according to yesterday’s complaint.
The FBI released images and video of the Tsarnaevs the next day -- the same day the Post published images of Barhoum and Zaimi.
Barhoum, a high school student, and Zaimi, who works full-time and attends night school, “were put in fear for their lives” and suffered emotional harm after the Post published their pictures, according to the complaint. They asked for unspecified money damages as compensation.
New York Post spokeswoman Suzanne Halpin declined to comment on the lawsuit and referred to an April 18 statement by the tabloid’s editor-in-chief, Col Allan.
“We stand by our story,” Allan said in the statement. “The image was e-mailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects.”
The front page picture showed Barhoum and Zaimi from behind, standing near the finish line, with one holding a backpack and the other carrying a duffel bag, which held their running gear. A second image inside the tabloid showed them from the front, with red circles superimposed around their faces and the headline: “FEDS HAVE 2 MEN IN SIGHTS.”
The article didn’t identify the men by name and said there was “no direct evidence linking them to the crime, but authorities want to identify them,” according to the complaint.
The image of Barhoum and Zaimi was first published on April 17 on social-media websites such as Reddit that were seeking help from the public to comb through collections of photographs of the scene online, according to the complaint.
When the men learned of the images, they went to the police, who told them they weren’t suspects, they said. They believed they were in the clear until the next day, when they learned separately about the New York Post article.
When Zaimi arrived at work, he was approached by a company vice president who told him he had called the FBI and been assured Zaimi wasn’t a suspect. His office manager later showed him a copy of the tabloid, according to the complaint.
“He immediately started shaking, his mouth went dry, and he felt as though he was having a panic attack,” according to the complaint, referring to Zaimi.
Barhoum, on vacation from school at the time, found out about the article after a track meet, when he arrived home to find his residence surrounded by journalists interviewing his parents. A reporter showed him a copy of the Post.
“Barhoum became terrified, began to shake and sweat, and felt dizzy and nauseous,” according to the complaint.
The tabloid drew criticism in the aftermath of the bombing for reporting 12 people had died, citing unnamed law enforcement sources. It also reported a Saudi national had been taken into custody, which Boston police later denied.
The case is Barhoum v. NYP Holdings Inc., 13-2062, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Superior Court, Suffolk County (Boston).
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com