By Jane Musgrave Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The second-in-command at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office has filed a defamation lawsuit against a former deputy who operates a website that allows people to anonymously criticize the agency.
In the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger accuses John Dougan of engaging in a "shocking anonymous campaign of character assassination." The website, according to the lawsuit, has featured photos of him superimposed on that of a uniformed Nazi officer, has suggested he is engaged in homosexual, racist and criminal activity and claims he is part of a "culture of corruption."
Gauger is seeking more than $15,000 in damages and is pursuing punitive damages, said the suit filed by attorney Jack Scarola.
Dougan scoffed at the lawsuit. "I think it's hilarious," said Dougan, who left the department in 2009. "The First Amendment people are going to have a field day with it."
Gauger, he said, is fair game for criticism because he's a public figure. However, even public figures can collect damages if they can prove statements were published with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.
Dougan also claims he didn't publish the photos or comments about Gauger. Those who use his website do. Originally known as pbsotalk.com, the web site recently has been renamed exposedgov.com.
Copyright 2012 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
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