- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The Fox News Network should not be held liable for airing live footage of a carjacking suspect killing himself and not using a tape delay, an Arizona appellate court ruled Tuesday.

The Court of Appeals upheld a previous court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the network for showing JoDon Romero fatally shooting himself in the Arizona desert at the end of an 80-mile police chase.

In its opinion, the panel said Fox was not subject to any claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress under the First Amendment.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge threw out the lawsuit brought by Angela Rodriguez in January 2014. In the suit, Rodriguez alleges that her three sons with JoDon Romero, 33, were severely traumatized in September 2012 after seeing the video online.

Joel Robbins, Rodriguez’s attorney, said he plans to appeal the case in the Arizona Supreme Court.

“We think at some level free speech doesn’t mean freely putting any image that you want on the TV without having to pay the damages that you may cause,” Robbins said. “Fox News caused them to have a dad who committed suicide on TV, whose images can be found on the Web and can be forever found on the Web for review.”

Attorney David Bodney, who represented Fox News, said the court’s opinion underscores the importance of protecting media’s breathing space for covering news of public concern.

“That’s what we have here,” Bodney said. “The publication of truthful information lawfully obtained on a matter of public concern, namely a carjacker leading the police on a high speed chase at dangerous speeds.”

Fox News was covering the chase using a live helicopter shot from Phoenix affiliate KSAZ-TV. As the death aired, anchor Shepard Smith repeatedly urged his show’s crew to cut away from the live shot. He apologized to viewers and said the video was supposed to be on a delay so it could be cut off if something went awry.

The chase began in Phoenix when police say Romero apparently hit a passing car with his hand, leading to a call to police. As officers were heading to the scene, police say Romero stole a car at gunpoint, and an hourlong pursuit began on an interstate west of Phoenix. Authorities say Romero opened fire and eventually drove off into the desert, got out of the car, began walking down a dirt road and killed himself.

Romero’s two teenage sons heard rumors at school about a suicide video and searched for it when they got home, according to the lawsuit. They found a clip on YouTube and realized while watching that the suspect was their father.


Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ttangAP

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