CHARLESTON — “I served my country well and after this felt I did all that work for nothing,” said U.S. Army veteran Christopher Shepperd after filing a lawsuit for defamation against a woman who shared false information about him on Facebook.
He is suing for $800,000 in damages.
"Defendant’s republication of the defamatory statement for wide distribution throughout southern Oregon (Coos, Curry and Douglas counties) has caused (Shepperd) grave humiliation and embarrassment," the lawsuit read, filed in the Coos County Circuit Court. "(Shepperd) has received hundreds of email messages threatening serious physical and personal injury, damage to his property and damage to his business, all of which has aggravated his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."
During the night between Monday evening and Tuesday morning, May 6 and 7, Shepperd woke to answer his cellphone only to hear that someone duct taped homemade flyers throughout Charleston and Empire accusing him of being a pedophile.
The flyers read, “SEX OFFENDER NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH,” listed his name and home address. It also falsely accused him of taking young boys into a garage or a boat to molest them.
The World checked the sex offender registration and found no record on Shepperd. The lawsuit also states that Shepperd has never been convicted of any crime.
In addition, a woman took a picture of one of the flyers and posted it to two community pages on Facebook. Combined, those pages reach 25,000 people.
Since then the decorated war veteran, who owns Empire Seafood’s LLC., has received over 100 hostile and threatening messages.
“My phone has been blowing up,” Shepperd said. “Friends who I thought knew me are believing what they read.”
His attorney, Lann Leslie, owner of Luvaas Cobb Attorneys in Eugene, filed the defamation claim Tuesday, May 7. The lawsuit is against Dianna Betts, the woman who allegedly posted a picture of the flyer on Facebook. An amended lawsuit is expected to be filed soon that will also name the man who created the flyers and stuck them to lampposts around town.
Leslie said that the man behind the flyers is believed to be a former employee of Shepperd’s who was fired for possession of illegal drugs.
“(Shepperd) was stunned when employees quit, owners of fishing boats indicated they would no longer sell their food products to him, wholesalers indicated they would no longer purchase product from him,” Leslie said of the fallout after Betts’ post gained momentum online.
Some of the threatening emails Shepperd received since included “placing bullets in his head or kicking his teeth out,” Leslie said.
“We’ve all heard of people reading things on the internet who take it as gospel truth and act recklessly without thinking about it,” Leslie said. “When (Shepperd) calls me, shows me proof of these crude posters around town and the republication of this online, there’s no doubt in my mind that this person’s life and business has been severely affected by this.”
For Shepperd, he has been in the community for four years with his wife and son, and helped fight for better pay for fishermen in the Charleston area.
“My client has been a productive member of the community,” Leslie said. “People have not taken the time to think if this even makes sense. This is a person with no criminal record, which is easily checked by anybody.”
Which underlines an issue faced by many in a digital age where what is seen online is often believed immediately without checking the source or fact-checking the information.
“First of all, this raises an interesting issue,” Leslie pointed out. “Everyone needs to be careful about what they read on the internet. All kinds of garbage can be posted there. Secondly, people need to be concerned about the other side of things. Who would post these flyers around town? These are not FBI wanted posters at the post office, these are crude duct taped flyers on a signpost. People should be skeptical of these things.”
Shepperd is the recipient of two purple hearts, among other medals, after serving one tour in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq. Some of his honors were received after going into the line of hostile fire to rescue fallen soldiers on the battlefield, as well as placing his Humvee between rocket-propelled grenades and his fellow servicemen.
“He has been decorated and deserves the respect he has earned,” Leslie said. “We all know about the risk of suicide for veterans. My client has documented PTSD and is struggling with that now. As far as he knows, his community has mostly rejected him. Now is the time for the community to come together, have an open mind, refrain from passing judgment, and maybe come around to offer him their support.”
For anyone who may have seen the yet unnamed individual posting these flyers in Charleston and Empire, Leslie encourages them to come forward and call his office at 541-484-9292.
“Ideally the person who posted those flyers would come forward and have an admission of responsibility and fault, which would be important to my client,” Leslie said, adding that a “sincere, heartfelt apology from Betts would be helpful too. This is more than money. This is an individual’s life and community and whether he’s welcome there or not.”
Because of the damage already inflicted on Empire Seafood’s LLC., Shepperd has said he is now forced to shut it down.
“The facts are very clear,” Leslie said. “It’s a question of my client’s economic damages, harm to his business, and tremendous distress he’s undergoing now which, hopefully, he will be able to get past.”
The World has reached out to Betts for comment.