A former Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate has filed a defamation lawsuit against an Oklahoma City news station over a story it ran on a controversial campaign ad the candidate ran in April.
Gary Richardson, a Tulsa-based lawyer who ran for governor as a Republican, announced the lawsuit at a news conference at his law office on Friday afternoon. He filed the suit against KFOR-TV, alleging the station defamed and misrepresented him in a story about the ad and ultimately damaged his law practice and run for governor.
Natalie Hughes, news director at KFOR, said the station is aware of Richardson’s lawsuit.
“The station will file a legal response as appropriate,” she said in a statement.
In April Richardson ran a 30-second campaign ad ahead of the June primary, highlighting the death of longtime KFOR sportscaster Bob Barry Jr.
“In 2015, an illegal immigrant kicked out of the country three times killed beloved sportscaster Bob Barry Jr.,” Richardson’s ad stated.
Barry, 58, was struck and killed while driving his motor scooter in Oklahoma City. Gustavo Castillo Gutierrez, 26, made an illegal U-turn and Barry was unable to stop, according to NewsOK.
Gutierrez pleaded guilty to causing the accident while driving without a license, resulting in death, and possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The TV station published a story in April about Richardson’s campaign ad.
KFOR general manager Wes Milbourn, who the suit also names as a defendant, said in the station’s story KFOR aired the ads but was “displeased with their advertising tactics and the exploitation of Bob Barry Junior.”
During Friday’s news conference, Richardson said he was never told the station had an issue with the ad.
In a statement Barry’s son sent to KFOR after the ads ran, Matt Barry said Richardson ran the ads without the family’s consent.
“Although we have no personal dislike for Mr. Richardson or his political ambitions, we find it very troubling that Mr. Richardson ran an advertisement that could imply that the Barry family endorses in any way his election as Governor of the State of Oklahoma,” Matt Barry said.
“In sum, the Barry family does not appreciate the liberties taken by Mr. Richardson and his campaign; and condemn the utter lack of respect shown towards our tragic loss.”
Richardson said KFOR told him Barry’s family would be notified about the ads before they aired, according to KFOR’s article. His suit states he did not have contact information for the family.
“Milbourn said he did let them know about the ad the day before it began running,” the article stated.
After the interview with KFOR about the ad, while the camera was still running, Richardson was talking with the KFOR reporter in “light-hearted small talk unrelated to the subject of the interview” and he was smiling and laughing, the suit states. The suit alleges the story make it appear as if Richardson was laughing at the subject of Barry’s death.
“Specifically, the segment was inserted into the broadcast so that the non-related pre-interview footage showing Mr. Richardson smiling and laughing immediately followed footage of the scene of the tragic motor vehicle collision that took Mr. Barry’s life, which footage was accompanied by Defendants’ reporter stating “…’now Gary Richardson is using that story in his latest political ad,” the suit’s complaint states.
At Friday’s conference, Richardson called KFOR’s portrayal of him “fake news.”
At the time of the story, Richardson told KFOR he planned to pull the ads from their station, according to the station’s article.
The suit alleges Milbourn did not reach out to Richardson to tell him he was unhappy about that ad.
Richardson’s suit states KFOR portrayed him in a false light. He is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.
“As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ malicious conduct, the general public reasonably understood Defendants’ Broadcast to mean that Mr. Richardson was an egregious and ruthless politician willing to do anything to get ahead of the race,” the suit states.
Richardson was defeated in the June primary after he received about 4 percent of the vote. Richardson was fourth behind Todd Lamb, Kevin Stitt and Mick Cornett. Stitt will face Democrat Drew Edmondson in the Nov. 6 general election.
Asked how much he believed KFOR’s story damaged his campaign, Richardson said he was unsure.
“Our numbers started dropping immediately after this,” he said. “It affected the campaign no doubt about it. It’s affected my reputation.”
This story was updated with KFOR’s comments