Newton Police officer Nathan Winters is suing someone he and fellow officer Christopher Wing wrongfully arrested for defamation. Tayvin Galanakis was pulled over last year and wrongfully arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence despite passing a breathalyzer test. The arrest appears to be motivated primarily by Galanakis choosing to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to refuse a drug test. While it is true that most states have laws requiring people to consent to breathalyzer and field sobriety tests in order to have a driver's license, the same is not true of urine and blood tests for drugs. Despite not having to take a drug test, Galanakis consented to one after being taken to jail, passed the test, and was released without charges. He then took to social media to fire back against the officers that kidnapped him. The social media campaign is the basis for the defamation lawsuit.
Officer Winters has been accused of domestic abuse by his ex-girlfriend and was subject to a restraining order according to media reports. Those same reports say that Winters has never been charged with a crime as a result of the alleged abuse. Counsel representing Winters, Wing, and the city of Newton allege that Galanakis falsely accused Winters of being convicted of a crime. Generally, it is considered defamatory to falsely state that someone has been convicted of a crime when they've only been accused of crimes. People have been kicked off this site for that. However, Winters might be in a bit of a bind if he engaged in the conduct or it appears as though he likely engaged in it even though he was not convicted. Arguing that you were defamed when the nature of the allegedly defamatory allegations mirror allegations lodged in court proceedings often can be problematic because it leaves the door open for the allegedly defamed to maintain a claim just because the part about being convicted was false. This author has considered filing defamation claims on such grounds in the past and was advised by counsel that it wouldn't be worth my time.
This author can relate to Winters in this case. Over a decade ago, I was targeted by a deranged stalker who received help from law enforcement. The stalker presented herself to them as a self described "victim's rights activist" trying to build a case when none existed. What should have been a simple case of the cops telling her she wasn't a victim because no crime had been committed and to stop bothering them resulted in a response more to the tune of "we wish there were laws against what he is doing, so if you catch him violating any laws at all let us know." The problem with that reaction is it often leads to selective prosecutions of people like me. People who don't live criminal lifestyles but are doing something perfectly legal which pisses a lot of people off. In those cases they often exercise their discretion and choose not to charge the first person they treat as a victim. Often they won't even acknowledge wrongdoing by their so called "victim" and choose instead to whitewash the person as if they'd done no wrong. The federal prosecutor in my case sounded like her attorney, by that I mean it seemed he would regurgitate whatever nonsense she threw down his throat without verification. They pushed this "vulnerable victim fights back" narrative which only worked because they never charged her with anything. The government is really good at making the real criminals look like victims simply by not enforcing the same laws on them which they're enforcing on others on their behalf. I would've loved to have sued Assistant United States Attorney Sean Hoar for defamation but he is immune from suit due to his job as a federal prosecutor.
If Iowa is like my state (Oregon) then there are laws on the books preventing members of the public from pursuing defamation claims against police officers. I found out about my state's law the hard way after I sued several local corrections deputies for several things including excessive force, battery, and defamation. The defamation claims were for false statements they made in incident reports at the jail. It turns out that Oregon law makes privileged any statement made by a law enforcement officer in furtherance of their duties. The state feels it would be too difficult for officers to do their jobs if they had to worry about being sued every time they falsely accuse someone. Proponents of this feel that vexatious litigants would tie up the courts with frivolous lawsuits if it were possible to sue cops every time someone says they lied. Under this system, the police have absolute privilege to defame you but if you defame them they can sue you. This double standard makes it highly unethical for a police officer to file a defamation claim against a civilian in the first place.
Think of the chilling effect this may have on future victims. Someone whose been wrongfully arrested might not pursue a lawsuit if they're afraid of being counter-sued for defamation just for telling their story. While it is alleged that Galanakis did more than tell his story by tracking down damaging information on one officer before allegedly misrepresenting it as a conviction, that is not how many will see this. They will see an arm of the state abusing the court in an effort to discourage people from suing.
Now people who're victims of false arrests or excessive force will have to consider the liability of being counter-sued by the police should they be unable to prove their claims. This could have had a chilling effect on me back when I sued the United States for excessive force under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). I eventually received a small settlement after prevailing on summary judgment despite the defendants blocking surveillance cameras well enough to cover up most of what they did. Ironically, the judge in that case refused to throw out my claims because the cameras which could've cleared their names had they not been lying were clearly obstructed by them. I was willing to settle for less than it would have cost them to win a trial, so they settled. I never considered myself potentially at risk of a counter-suit for defamation should I not be able to prove my claims. I could see someone in their position potentially file a counter-suit for defamation on the grounds that none of the cameras showed them acting as alleged and they have sworn statements from officers all disputing the plaintiff's story. This is a big problem in cities like Portland, Oregon where the police still don't have body cameras and prosecutors consider their word gold. I could see a lot of cops filing counter-suits for defamation simply because there is no video supporting the plaintiff's version of events, other officers support them, and they feel the plaintiff lacks credibility due having a record. This is a slippery slope which might lead to a situation in which you'd better not sue law enforcement unless you know you can win because otherwise you'll be hit with a counter-suit for defamation.
As people who enjoy absolute privilege to lie on the job, cops have no business filing retaliatory defamation claims against the public.