A jury has ordered Baltimore City Paper to pay $350,000 after reaching its verdict in a defamation suit brought by a Florida man who was misidentified as a wanted fugitive in a 2008 news story.
The article in question was written by City Paper veteran Van Smith and appeared in a blog post on Aug. 22, 2008, later making its way into the following week’s print edition. Smith claimed that Ioannis Kafouros, a Miami restaurant owner, was former Baltimore resident Ioannis “Crazy John” Kafouros who had been convicted for trafficking in stolen property in 1999 but had disappeared before sentencing.
According to Brendan Kearney of the Daily Record, who attended last week’s trial, a Google search led Smith to call Mykonos Greek Restaurant in Miami where he spoke with Kafouros’ son Alexios:
Alexios confirmed during the call that “his father is the same Ioannis Kafouros as the same one from Baltimore, and [that] his mother, Diane Kafouros, lives in Baltimore.” Testifying Monday that Alexios did this by saying “Yeah,” Smith called the mother detail the “clincher” that he and Alexios were talking about the same man.
After realizing its mistake, City Paper ran two corrections and the initial blog post has been removed from its website. Kearney notes that the jury determined City Paper “had not acted with malice, just negligence, eliminating the possibility of punitive damages.”