MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) — A hunter who says he was falsely accused online of killing a New Jersey black bear that walked upright on its hind legs and became an internet celebrity has sued six social media posters.
John DeFilippo's attorney filed the suit Tuesday in state Superior Court. It seeks undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages for defamation and invasion of privacy.
The suit stems from the apparent death of the bear Pedals during the first part of this year's state bear hunt. The animal walked upright because of an injury and was seen strolling around New Jersey neighborhoods in videos posted on social media and shown on national television.
State wildlife officials believe Pedals was killed during the expanded bear hunt staged in October. The Department of Environmental Protection released pictures showing the lifeless body of a black bear with injured paws, just like the ones Pedals had, but couldn't confirm the identity because Pedals was never tagged.
The name of the hunter who apparently killed the bear hasn't been released.
"The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, but not all speech," DeFilippo's attorney, Wolfgang Robinson, said in a statement to NJ.com. "There is no such thing as a constitutional right to make false statements about others. The defendants that have been named in this lawsuit falsely stated that my client harvested Pedals the Bear. He did not."
The suit states that various Facebook pages devoted to Pedals began appearing as rumors spread that the bear had been killed. Several posts on these pages purportedly named DeFilippo as the hunter who killed Pedals, according to the suit, and some referred to him as a "bear murderer." Some posts also stated people would be "gunnin" for DeFilippo and he "would get his due," the suit alleges.
The defendants named in the suit allegedly posted pictures of DeFilippo's home on Facebook and provided information about his employment and family members. They are identified as residents of New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts.
The second half of the state's bear hunt started on Monday, and hunt opponents are using Pedals' apparent death as a rallying cry as they stage protests against it this week.