In a bizarre postscript to a high profile defamation case, Sarah Jones, a high school English teacher and the current captain of the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleading squad, has been indicted for having sex with a high school football player. Police claim that Jones had four or five sexual encounters with the student, and that she sent him numerous inappropriate text messages. Jones’ mother, who is the principal of the school, has been accused of tampering with evidence to protect her daughter. Both Jones and her mother claim complete innocence.
Jones subsequently resigned her position at the school but is still officially the captain of the cheerleading squad. A spokesperson for the Bengals said the team would not take any action until further information was available.
Jones first attracted national attention when she filed a defamation lawsuit against Nik Richie, founder of TheDirty.com. Richie posted a picture of Jones on his website, accompanied by a caption that claimed Jones had had sex with numerous members of the Bengals. Richie also claimed that Jones had a sexually transmitted disease, an important piece of evidence in a defamation case. Plaintiffs are usually required to prove that they suffered actual injury and that the defamatory statement caused their damages. Accusing someone of being infected with a loathsome and communicable disease, however, is subject to the doctrine of defamation per se. When a statement is found to be defamatory, courts do not require the plaintiff to prove damages.
Jones claimed that the pictures ruined her reputation and damaged her career. Jones attempted to take pre-emptive action, informing her students of the accusations and assuring them that the statements were false. To help her students understand, Jones compared her situation to being bullied on the Internet by a classmate. Jones’ efforts were only partially successful, however; in an interview with the news program “20/20,” she reported that a female student told her she refused to “learn from a slut like me.” According to Jones, she struggled throughout her life to earn and maintain a good reputation, a reputation Richie destroyed with a single online post.
After Richie refused two requests to remove the pictures, Jones filed a defamation suit in federal court. When Richie did not appear to defend the claims, the court granted a default judgment in Jones’ favor. Riche has appealed the judgment, and the case is scheduled for a hearing in June.