By Luke Britt/Editor
A Marion man is suing three men linked to a Union Parish Facebook page that published a post he says wrongly accused him of making a political contribution in exchange for favorable treatment from Union Parish Sheriff Dusty Gates and that the post also revealed private information, including his social security number, to the public.
The lawsuit was filed in Third District Court on Monday by attorney Johnny Dollar on behalf of Harry Mark Preaus who alleges that earlier this month Nicholas Farrar of Monroe, Donald Gene Duncan, Jr., of West Monroe, and Allen Keith Blackman of Farmerville defamed Preaus when they published a post linking a 2020 arrest to a $1,500 donation he made to the Gates campaign earlier this year.
According to the three-year-old arrest report, Preaus was booked for assaulting a police officer who took issue with Preaus being armed with a handgun when he answered the officer’s knock at his door after dark. The assault charge was later dropped, and the post – which appeared on a Facebook page created under the name Marion Spencer – said Preaus’ donation was intended to repay Gates for suppressing that charge.
In his lawsuit, Preaus denies that Gates had anything to do with the charge being dropped, and on Tuesday, the Third Judicial District Attorney’s office confirmed that the DA’s office, not Sheriff Gates, made the decision to not prosecute the case.
The post included an image of the booking sheet from the 2020 arrest that displayed Preaus’ name, address and social security number, “everything any dishonest person would need to assume Plaintiff’s identity,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Defendants then made statements falsely claiming a correlation between the 2023 political donation and the 2020 arrest and further suggested that same was a quid pro quo or ‘pay for play’ – money for the dismissal of the arrest charges,” the lawsuit says.
In the lawsuit, Preaus alleges that the post and the defendants’ comments associated with it accused him of committing a crime he did not commit, and in so doing, damaged his personal and business reputation as well as his standing in the community.
The Gazette was unable to locate the post in question on the Marion Spencer page, but it is unclear if the post was deleted or is merely no longer displayed to the general public. The page does not allow public posting – all of the posts appear under the name Marion Spencer – and only people approved by those managing the page are allowed to comment.
Preaus’ lawsuit says the booking sheet displayed in the post could not have been legally obtained because it contained information typically removed before officials release such documents. Booking sheets are public records and can be obtained through public records requests, but by law, sensitive private information such as a social security number must be redacted before release.
The Gazette regularly reviews arrest reports and booking sheets from various law enforcement agencies and in every case the social security number is removed before the newspaper is allowed to view them.
The Facebook page’s name – Marion Spencer – does not appear to be an actual person, but a pseudonym for the page’s creator. An effort by The Gazette during the Spring of this year to locate a person with that name found no such person in Union or Ouachita parishes that could credibly be linked to the Facebook page.
The vast majority of the page’s posts are critical of Gates and many imply wrongdoing. The page does not provide substantive evidence to support its accusations when wrongdoing is alleged.
The first publicly available post on the page is dated Dec. 14 of last year, but it is unclear when the page was created or who created it because the page’s profile contains none of the information users typically provide when creating pages.
The name may be a reference the area of Union Parish between the towns of Marion and Spencer, but because the page contains no profile material it is not known what significance that area has to the page’s creator.
Facebook’s name policy prohibits the use of pseudonyms, requiring creators to use a real name, which the policy defines as “your real name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver’s license or student ID,” but Facebook has been sharply criticized for years for not effectively enforcing its own policies.
Nicholas Farrar’s name appears frequently in post comments, although Blackman and Duncan’s names do not. Blackman’s name did appear in the comments section of the Preaus post accusing Gates of accepting the campaign donation as payment for dropping the assault charge.
When asked how Duncan came to be named in the lawsuit, Dollar said he could not comment on any aspect of the case beyond what was included in Monday’s filing.
Farrar was involved as a witness in a 2016 incident that resulted in the death of Sterlington police officer David Elahi. Blackman campaigned unsuccessfully for sheriff against Gates in 2019.
Reached by text message Blackman responded that he has not seen the lawsuit and did not wish to comment. The Gazette was unable to reach Farrar or Duncan.
Sheriff Gates also declined to comment.
The most serious allegation in Preaus’s lawsuit may be that those behind the Marion Spencer page created the page for the specific purpose of impacting the outcome of the October 14 Union Parish Sheriff’s election and have published lies toward that end.
In his lawsuit, Preaus describes the defendants as “cowardly ‘political hitmen’ who lack the courage and honesty for their identity to be known yet use the social media platform to spew lies about private citizens and public officials and intentionally publish other disinformation and false statements to mislead the public about political races.”
In the wake of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, several states introduced laws that make intentionally disseminating false information for the purpose of subverting an election a felony crime. Similar efforts at the federal level have failed, and Louisiana has no such law.