George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in connection with the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, sued the parent company of NBC News on Thursday, alleging that the network intentionally edited reports on the case to depict Zimmerman as a "racist and predatory villain."
Zimmerman, who is of Latino origin, is charged with shooting and killing Martin, 17, who was African-American, on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. He faces trial on a second-degree murder charge next spring. The case became a rallying point for activists protesting what they said was the targeting of an unarmed black youth because of his race. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Seminole County, Fla., Circuit Court against NBCUniversal Media, alleges defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
NBCUniversal Media, which owns NBC News, said in a statement Thursday: "We strongly disagree with the accusations made in the complaint. There was no intent to portray Mr. Zimmerman unfairly. We intend to vigorously defend our position in court."
The lawsuit alleges that in reports aired in March the network intentionally misrepresented audio of Zimmerman's call to a police dispatcher on the night of the shooting, leaving viewers with the impression that Zimmerman was "motivated by racial stereotypes." The goal, the lawsuit alleged, was to "exploit the national attention surrounding this tragic situation" for ratings.
The lawsuit alleges that in the first report, on March 19, the call was intentionally edited to make it sound as though Zimmerman had volunteered the information that Martin was black, when he actually was responding to the operator's question about Martin's race, which was omitted. A similar report ran March 27, it said.
On March 20, the lawsuit alleges, the network incorrectly and intentionally stated Zimmerman used a racial epithet on the call.
In a statement on April 3, NBCUniversal Media apologized for the editing of the call, calling it an "error" that it "deeply regrets."
It dismissed three employees of the network and a local NBC station, according to published reports. Two of them are named in the lawsuit as defendants, along with NBC News' Ron Allen, the on-air correspondent for the March 20 report.
Attorneys for Zimmerman didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. But in the suit, they alleged that the apology was "bogus" and that NBCUniversal has "failed to broadcast an earnest and legitimate apology, retraction or correction."
The suit seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial.
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