Police chief loses bulk of lawsuit against Ohio newspaper

Thursday, March 30, 2000

Akron Police Ch...
Akron Police Chief Edward Irvine, and his wife, Geneva, left, talk with their attorney, Sandy Zerrusen, yesterday in Akron, Ohio.

AKRON, Ohio — A jury ruled yesterday that journalists from the Akron Beacon Journal acted reasonably when they tried to interview the police chief’s wife about her claims that her husband was abusive.

A Summit County jury rejected the bulk of Edward and Geneva Irvine’s $8 million invasion of privacy lawsuit. However, it awarded $206,500 to the couple for alleged telephone harassment by the newspaper as it tried to get the couple to subscribe to the paper.

The Beacon Journal may appeal that decision, an attorney for the paper said.

The couple claimed the newspaper hounded Geneva Irvine after she was hospitalized and told a police officer that her husband abused her. She later dropped the allegations, and no charges were filed.

The paper last spring ran a series of stories on Geneva Irvine’s claims and the internal police investigation into them, and it sent a reporter to try to interview her in Louisiana where she was staying with relatives and undergoing cancer surgery.

The newspaper maintained it was doing its duty as a public watchdog by checking on serious charges against a high-ranking official.

Edward Irvine said he was pleased the jury found the newspaper liable for telephone harassment.

“The most important thing was that they were found guilty,” he said. Asked if he still believed the newspapers’ reporters went too far, he said, “they definitely did.”

Geneva Irvine did not respond when asked to comment.

Janet Leach, the newspaper’s editor, said she was proud of the jury for upholding the freedom of the press. “It was about being fair,” she said. “It was never about being intrusive.”