Jury orders blogger to pay $8.4 million to ex-Army colonel she accused of rape

Lol. David “Wil” Riggins, Page Design Web, after an incredibly adorned Army profession that protected a couple of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, become on the verge of merchandising to Brigadier trendy in July 2013 when he was given a telephone call on the Pentagon from the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division to come in for a meeting. Once there, he discovered that a blogger in Washington nation had accused him of raping her, while both had been cadets at West Point in 1986. An investigation turned into underway.

Riggins waived his right to a legal professional and at once gave a declaration denying any sexual assault of the girl, Susan Shannon of Everett, Washington. Shannon also cooperated with the CID research, which couldn’t “prove or disprove Ms. Shannon’s allegation she became raped,” the CID report concluded. But inside the spring of 2014, with the armed forces going through the heavy complaint for his or her managing of sexual attack instances, Secretary of the Army John McHugh advocated eliminating Riggins from the list for merchandising to widespread. Riggins right away retired.


Then, Riggins used Shannon for defamation, claiming that each element of her rape claim on the West Point campus became “probably fake” and that she wrote two weblog posts and a Facebook put up “to derail [his] promotion” to Brigadier popular deliberately. During a 6-day trial that ended Aug. 1, a jury in Fairfax County, Virginia, heard from each Riggins and Shannon at length.

And after 2½ hours of deliberation, they sided emphatically with Riggins, awarding him $8.4 million in damages, a first-rate quantity for a defamation case between non-public citizens. The jury ordered Shannon to pay $3.4 million in compensatory damages for harm to his recognition and misplaced wages and $5 million in punitive damages, “to make certain nothing like this can ever take place once more,” in line with one of the jurors.

In Virginia, punitive damages are confined to $350,000, and lawyers for each side said the compensatory damages could in all likelihood be decreased to $2 million, leaving a very last judgment of $2.3 million in opposition to Shannon, a stay-at-domestic mother of three teenagers. The verdict came simply days after a jury in Dallas offered more than $1 million in damages to a wedding photographer who became harshly criticized by using a splendor blogger, causing the photographer’s commercial enterprise to disintegrate.


David “Wil” Riggins

Retired Army Col. David “Wil” Riggins. Accused of rape via a blogger who attended West Point with him, he sued for defamation, and a jury presented him with $8.4 million. (Photo courtesy of David “Wil” Riggins) Shannon, 52, said she changed into devastated using the verdict and nervous for her own family’s destiny. “I experience like I’m an economic slave for the relaxation of my life” to Riggins, Shannon said. “I informed the fact in my article and at trial.” She and her lawyer, Benjamin Trichilo, said in an interview that they felt Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Daniel E. Ortiz wrongly prevented them from imparting witnesses and evidence approximately Riggins’s beyond and the Army CID research findings and they plan to appeal.

Riggins, 52, stated the jury took the right steps in the direction of restoring his existence. “This journey we’ve been for the remaining 4 years,” Riggins stated, “it’s been a nightmare. The huge dollar amount is incomprehensible. All I was looking for became the opportunity to be vindicated, to set the report straight, to take each motion to get my recognition back to where it turned before the fifteenth of July [2013], while she published that fake accusation.”

The scope and pace of the Internet can compound the damage for the problem of a false tale and the liability for the writer, according to Tom Clare, a defamation legal professional who represented University of Virginia assistant dean Nicole Eramo in her lawsuit towards Rolling Stone. “People clearly recognize the cost that a recognition has,” Clare said. “Especially in modern Internet surroundings when even a weblog post or a tweet will have the sort of huge effect. It can actually go round the world. And if something out there may be fake, juries are prepared to issue great awards.”

Riggins now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and works as a pilot for the Federal Aviation Administration. Both he and Shannon entered the USA Military Academy in 1983. Shannon resigned from the academy in the spring of 1986, near the give up of her junior 12 months, and claims she did so quickly after being raped by way of Riggins, even though she denied any sexual assault to West Point officers at the time, court docket statistics display. She graduated with a bachelor’s diploma from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1989, married in 1990, and had 3 youngsters.

Shannon wrote in a court docket submitting that “the demons from the rape haunted [me] for years” and that a “decade of suicidal melancholy led me to Christ.” She writes regularly on her blog, Short Little Rebel, approximately her Christian faith. She has recounted staking out debatable positions on her blog, inclusive of that the mass school taking pictures in Newtown, Connecticut, turned into “a planned occasion” and that “I believe our GOVERNMENT shot the one’s youngsters and instructors and used Adam Lanza and his circle of relatives to drag it off.” That post was not presented to the jury in Fairfax. Still, different inflammatory feedback with Shannon’s aid was located in evidence, Trichilo stated, at the same time as witnesses who have been prepared to testify in opposition to Riggins’s past have been no longer allowed to testify.

Meanwhile, Riggins graduated from West Point in 1987, was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, and became awarded a Bronze Star for his fight position in the 1990 invasion of Iraq. He joined the Army Rangers, started rising through the command ranks, served two tours in Afghanistan in 2003, and become promoted to colonel in 2007. He turned into operating at the Pentagon as chief of Army weapon gadget investments when his nomination to grow to be a one-star well-known become introduced July 2, 2013.

Thirteen days later, Shannon posted a weblog submission titled “The Rape of a Female Cadet at West Point: Me.” She referred to the current media reviews about sexual assault within the navy and wrote that “my roommate and I were raped at West Point — and we in no way mentioned it. The guy who raped me, Will [sic] Riggins, an elegance of 1987, is now a Colonel in the Army. The rape is the reason I left West Point. So, at the same time as his navy career is hovering, I left mine far at the back of.” She stated that she “become out cold from stupidly consuming myself unconscious at Eisenhower Hall” after being provided with “FREE beer” at the West Point campus.

Eight days after that, Shannon posted a 2d web blog publish, revealing that the Army CID had contacted her to investigate her claims. “I failed to need to give them a declaration,” Shannon said, noting that she did not want to hurt Riggins’s circle of relatives or put her family through an ordeal. But she said the investigators forced her and discovered that Riggins became in line for advertising to general. “They appealed to my experience of responsibility,” she stated. “That’s when I agreed to do it.”

Shannon said she did not realize that Riggins turned up for promotion till the investigators instructed her. “I had no concept; I don’t study the army press,” she said. But certainly, one of her very own witnesses testified that Shannon did know and that it changed into the motivation for her writing her first weblog publish. Shannon said the witness misunderstood the query; however, the statistics remained unchallenged for the jury to do not forget.

The CID also contacted Riggins. A file in courtroom statistics suggests that Riggins defined a consensual sexual stumble upon with Shannon after a Halloween birthday party in 1983 and a quick relationship with an amicable breakup. Riggins said he had no full-size contact with her in 1986. In Washington, Shannon informed investigators there was no intercourse or courting in 1983, most effective a rape after Riggins noticed her marvelous out of a pedestrian tunnel on campus inside the spring of 1986. She claimed Riggins offered her a ride in his car and that she had no reminiscence of the real assault, although she said Riggins “smugly admitted he did certainly rape” Shannon, consistent with a Fairfax court docket filing.

Shannon called Riggins’s tale approximately the 1983 encounter “a whole fabrication.” She said she supplied a witness, every other cadet, who testified that he — the witness — drove her domestic from the Halloween party. Shannon stands by using her version of the occasions in 1986.

“Everything in that weblog submits become probably fake,” stated Stephen Horvath, Riggins’s legal professional, “and couldn’t have befallen.” He said no unfastened beer changed into furnished at the West Point campus, that drinking was prohibited with the aid of cadets, that Riggins did no longer have a car in 1986, might no longer be allowed to pressure it on campus, and that each person emerging from the pedestrian tunnel couldn’t have been visible from the road. Shannon’s claims that her grades plunged after the occasion and that she back her magnificence ring had also been untrue, Horvath said.

The CID research found that, in light of the vast one-of-a-kind memories furnished using Riggins and Shannon and interviews of more than 30 human beings from that generation, there was no “testimonial or bodily evidence to corroborate Ms. Shannon or Col. Riggins’ model.” Trichilo said the jury needs to have been allowed to listen that Riggins’s model of occasions additionally become not substantiated. But quickly earlier than the trial commenced, the judge ordered references to the findings on Riggins’s version struck from the trial, Trichilo said.

Riggins’s nomination for Brigadier was well known was back to McHugh, the Army secretary, who wrote that “I do not have confidence and self-assurance in Colonel Riggins’ judgment and man or woman. Consequently, I do no longer help his promotion to brigadier preferred.”

With Congress lived on the failure of a military government to crack down on sexual assault, “there has been honestly super fear,” Riggins said, “that needed to do with a loss of the Uniform Code of Military Justice jurisdiction with the aid of commanders inside the Army.” Horvath introduced, “Once the allegation of rape had been made; there was no manner Col. Riggins turned into going to get the position at that time, in that atmosphere.” As a professional witness at trial, Horvath called retired Major General Peter Fuller to testify that the rape allegation could have induced Riggins’s merchandising to be rejected. Horvath said Riggins’s profits, both as a general and as a retired trendy, might have been a whole lot greater than that of a colonel.

Trichilo said Fuller has no longer been allowed to testify to his opinion approximately the research’s effect without company records. He stated that enabled the jury to speculate approximately what damages the investigation brought about.

The trial started July 24 with Riggins’s testimony and his wife, Nancy, and later inside the week, Shannon took the stand. Riggins testified a 2d time on rebuttal, and remaining arguments have been held on the afternoon of Aug. 1. As night fell, the jury advised Judge Ortiz to plan that night time rather than go back within the morning. Court data display they started at 6:30 p.M. And lower back at 9:04 p.M.

“Honestly,” stated juror Marshall Reinsdorf, “we notion who was telling the reality turned into too obvious to be discussing. We held a vote, and anybody believed the colonel. The simplest argument turned into how big the damages have been going to be.” Of the four women and 3 guys on the jury, two different jurors declined to remark, two jurors did no longer go back messages and couldn’t be reached.

Reinsdorf stated he had several problems with Shannon’s testimony. “Her story had so much information in it that couldn’t be real,” he stated. “They commenced wondering her approximately the [pedestrian] tunnel, the types of backed off. She turned so evasive. It was incredible.”

Horvath had now not counseled a dollar parent for damages, so the jury got here up with roughly $three million for his compensatory damages, Reinsdorf said. For punitive damages, the jury decided, “We want to make certain nothing like this may ever happen once more,” Reinsdorf said. He said one juror advised that because the motive for the $five million discerns, and “essentially was given the unanimous guide for that.” Reinsdorf stated the jury agreed that Shannon’s accusation derailed Riggins’s merchandising. “There changed into absolute confidence in anybody’s mind the colonel had made his case,” Reinsdorf stated. “He became believable.”

On the decision shape, the jury changed into asked whether or not Shannon made her statements knowing they were fake or reckless or negligent and checked “sure” for each one. “The bottom line,” Shannon said, “is whilst the judge struck the [Army] CID findings at the start of trial” and averted her witnesses from testifying approximately Riggins’s man or woman, “we couldn’t switch gears and shield me in a certain manner.” She mentioned that her weblog sparked an investigation that wouldn’t have come about; however, that Riggins had a load of proof to expose that the research stopped his merchandising.

“I think the jury’s verdict,” Riggins stated, “not most effective that they discovered her statements were false and defamatory, but the amount of the damages they assessed speaks volumes.” Although Shannon had claimed, on a GoFundMe page seeking assist with her legal payments, that Riggins’s healthy could discourage intercourse assault sufferers from doing reviews, Riggins responded that “this can discourage different false accusations, however, might not discourage legitimate accusations of sexual attack.”

Clare, the defamation attorney, stated, “We have heaps of clients who want their recognition lower back. What they actually need is a public vindication of the falsity.” He said a successful declare allows victors to take the judgment to websites like Facebook and Google and persuade them to get rid of defamatory cloth.

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