Mugshot-printing newspaper faces group of lawsuits - WSMV Channel 4

Mugshot-printing newspaper faces group of lawsuits

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

You've probably seen it at gas stations or convenience stores. The newspaper Just Busted publishes mugshots of people arrested across Tennessee.

But now the paper may be busted itself. There are currently three separate lawsuits against the publication.

One of those cases was filed here in Nashville.

The paper is sold in convenience stores across the area for $1. It's full of faces, some innocent and some guilty. But all have been arrested and accused of something.

A Nashville man says his face should not have been shown the way it was.

Now he has an attorney and is suing Just Busted.

"Just Busted basically irresponsibly grabs a bunch of pictures they can find, turns around and puts them in a paper, doesn't verify a lot of the information. Especially in this case," attorney Robert Foy said.

Japheth McAlister was arrested last year for theft. Then his friend found his picture on the front cover of Just Busted.

Just above the photo, a headline said "Sex Offenders Near Schools," so McAlister's attorney says this makes it look like his client is a sex offender.

"They place them in the paper without any convictions, and in this case as Mr. McAlister states, they're labeling him as a sex offender," Foy said.

But the publication's attorney Marty Lasley says it's clear the headlines tease to what is inside and not necessarily who is on the cover.

"You have to look at the whole context, and that's called a juxtaposition," Lasley said.

Lasley says inside the publication, it shows McAlister's face again with the theft charge beside it.

The paper breaks down arrests by category, including the "Drunk Tank," missing children, wanted fugitives and the mugshot of the week.

Lasley says although people shown in the paper may not be guilty, they were arrested and people want to see them.

"Any citizen can get the information we're getting. We just have people that know how to get that, then transfer it into a format that can be printed off into a little newspaper," he said.

Lasley says some whose photos make the paper are even proud to see themselves.

"It's a young people thing, but it's almost like, 'Hey, I was in Just Busted,'" he said.

But McAlister and two others were not pleased at all.

In the two years the paper has existed, they have faced several lawsuits but never lost a single one. They stand on the grounds of free speech and free press for presenting public information.

But McAlister's attorney thinks this case may change that. He is suing for emotional distress and says his client was defamed in print.

"They're making money off of this, but they should be doing so responsibly," Foy said.

McAlister was convicted of a DUI in 1998, but he has never been arrested for a sex crime. His attorney says the stigma attached to "sex offender" is stronger than any other offense.

There is no hearing date set yet for this case.

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