In May 2008, after receiving a tip that a 44 year old woman had attempted to engage a child in sexual activity, New York State Police troopers executed a search warrant for evidence related to child pornography at the Albany home the woman shared with her 24 year old son Robert Partridge. During the execution of the warrant, Mr. Partridge was arrested on drug-related charges for the criminal possession of steroids. The charges were dismissed in November 2008.
Although Mr. Partridge was never suspected of or charged with any sexual crime against a child, on June 17, 2008, his photograph was displayed and disseminated during a press conference conducted by the State Police educating parents and children about online sexual predators. The conference was covered by five local television stations and was also made available for online streaming on various websites.
Partridge filed a claim against the state seeking damages for defamation for being wrongfully branded a sexual predator and on October 4, 2013, the Court of Claims found that the defendant was 100% liable for the defamation of Mr. Partridge. On June 9, 2017, at the conclusion of the damages trial, the same judge awarded claimant damages in the sum of $300,000.
Both sides appealed and in Partridge v. State of New York (3rd Dept. 2019), both the liability verdict and the damages award have been affirmed.
Seven years before the press conference, Mr. Partridge was involved in a car crash that left his girlfriend dead and him in jail for two years. Also, due to the crash, he sustained a traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) that made it difficult for him to process information or keep things in his working memory to deal with them at a normal rate of speed. He underwent mental health treatment (that continued up to and following the time of his defamation) and, as late as November 2007, was treating for severe anger, anxiety and paranoia.
After being defamed, Mr. Partridge no longer held a job (and did not seek new employment), broke up with his girlfriend, cut himself off from his friends, lost his self confidence, became socially withdrawn and suffered from new and increased paranoia and psychotic depression, constantly fearful that if he tried to date or applied for a job, people would look him up online and conclude he is a pedophile.
The defendant argued that the trial proof was insufficient to allow the judge to determine to what extent claimant’s complaints were attributable to the 2008 defamation as opposed to his longstanding and well documented TBI. Claimant conceded he’d sustained a significant injury in 2001 and had undergone treatment for it but he noted that thereafter he’d been able to maintain gainful full time employment (as a leader of hiking expeditions for children and an employment trainer for people with disabilities), had significant social relationships with friends and a romantic relationship with a woman.
Testimony was adduced from claimant’s treating psychiatrist and social worker as well as from his friends that, as a result of being falsely identified by the State Police as a sexual predator (a) he was humiliated, shamed and in great despair and (b) his preexisting mental health deficits were aggravated and exacerbated.
- Claimant was unable to testify at the damages trial due to severe anxiety; instead, his examinations before trial were received in evidence in lieu of his live testimony.
- Defendant did not adduce any expert testimony.
- This was a long and hard fought case with the State represented by its Attorney General and plaintiff by one of the capitol region’s most respected firms, LaFave, Wein & Frament.