United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.
the Court, at the motion to dismiss stage, is a defamation
case that asks a simple question: does the fair report
Island state officials hosted a press panel at the Adult
Correctional Institutions ("ACI") to discuss a
drug-treatment program for inmates. Several state officials
and inmates spoke at the event. One of those inmates, Crystal
Olsen, talked about her battle with addiction and withdrawal,
and told a story about how her father prostituted her at the
age of fourteen and started her on her heroin addiction.
Defendant Lynn Arditi covered the press event and published
an article online and in the newspaper of the Providence
Journal, which included Ms. Olsen's story about her
father, Plaintiff Philip Olsen. An internet news website,
ConvergenceRI.com, posted a news story repeating the
Providence Journals report of Ms. Olsen's story.
But the ConvergenceRI went one step further, using Ms.
Olsen's story to pose a series of hypothetical questions,
such as, "Why exclude that part of Olsen's story
about her father's abuse from the [op-ed] column?"
response to the articles, Mr. Olsen filed suit, claiming Ms.
Olsen's story is false, and therefore the Defendants'
stories are defamatory. The Defendants, in turn, have moved
to dismiss the suit, asserting the fair report privilege.
Because the Court finds that the privilege applies in this
case, the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 6 and
9) are GRANTED.
Island's Executive Office of Health and Human Services
and Rhode Island's Department of Corrections held an
open-press panel discussion featuring corrections officials
and inmates. The purpose of this press event was for state
officials to discuss the success of its medication-assisted
drug-treatment program implemented at the ACL The panel
discussion included an official from the Rhode Island
Executive Office of Health and Human Services; three
officials from the Rhode Island Department of Corrections!
the White House Director of National Drug Control Policy,
Michael Botticelli; and inmates from the ACI. During the
panel discussion, government officials highlighted the
benefits of medically treating (e.g., with methadone or
suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone)) inmates addicted to
point during the event, government officials escorted four
ACI inmates on stage, including Crystal Olsen, Ms. Olsen
recounted her struggle with opioid addiction and the horrors
of going through withdrawal without medication-assisted
treatment. Relevant to this case, she went on to say:
I guess that [my father] started me using heroin and that led
to him prostituting me because he was also a drug addict and
he needed to support his habit and now I ended up with a drug
habit that needed to be supported also,
attending the press event, Ms. Arditi wrote a news article titled
"U.S. drug czar Michael Botticelli calls RI a national
leader in treating drug-addicted inmates, " which was
posted on the Providence Journals website. The
newspaper's print edition published an identical version
of the article the following day, under the headline
"Looking to R.I. as a model / U.S. drug czar cites
treatment of drug-addicted inmates." The articles began
by outlining the White House drug czar's visit to the ACI
and then stated that the Obama administration plans to
replicate the ACI's medication-assisted drug-treatment
program on a national level. The articles go on to discuss
how few prisoners have access to medication-assisted
Providence Journal articles then recapped Ms.
Olsen's story. The relevant portions began with Ms.
Olsen's description of withdrawal: "I lay on my bed
shaking, throwing up, going to the bathroom." After
discussing the logistics and costs of the drug-treatment
program, the articles included the following:
Olsen, the mother who described going into withdrawal in her
cell, said she was 14 when she began using heroin with her
father, who was a drug addict. She said he prostituted her to
support his habit. "The opiates would stop me from
feeling what I've been through, " she said.
articles ended with this quote from Ms. Olsen:
'"Every time I come into prison I have had to be
taken off [methadone], ' she said. 'I relapse every
time I leave jail because I've been taken off my
methadone. I hope that it works this time."'
weeks later, the Providence Journal published an
op-ed piece--"Michael Botticelli and Gina M. Raimondo:
R.I. makes progress on addiction"-jointly authored by
U.S. Drug Czar Michael Botticelli and Rhode Island Governor
Gina M. Raimondo. This piece discussed Rhode Island's
medication-assisted drug-treatment program in the state's
prison system and the positive impact it has on prisoners.
While the article expressly referred to Ms. Olsen's
experience with the program, it did not mention Ms.
Olsen's comments about her father.
days later, Richard Asinof published an article on his
website-based newsletter, ConvergenceRI, titled "Heroin,
sexual abuse, prison, methadone, and the promise of
recovery." Mr. Asinof's article discussed both the
Providence Journal's article that
reported on the press event and the op-ed piece by the
governor and drug czar. The relevant portions of Mr.
Asinof's article are replicated below:
One of the most telling moments in the presentation came when
the first mother, Crystal Olsen, told the story of how she
became a heroin addict. Her father, a heroin addict, shot her
up when she was just 14, and then forced her to become a
prostitute to support his habit.
Why exclude that part of Olsen's story about her
father's abuse from the [op-ed] column?
If you don't talk about it or acknowledge it in a
truthful fashion, does it get swept under the rug as an
Where were the authorities-from school, from the police, from
the community-who somehow failed to protect a girl of 14 from
being turned out on the ...