Monday, September 29, 2008
Help Me Howard: HIV Poster
There is an old saying that says sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me. Then how about a poster falsely accusing you of having HIV. Is that legal? Can you post them all over a neighborhood? That is what one South Florida woman is asking Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser tonight.
WSVN -- When Maria walked out her door that Sunday morning she never expected to see these fliers all over the neighborhood.
Maria Madison: "Wow. I was like, I don't know what type of person we have on earth who would do something like that."
What someone did was drop posters in mailboxes, front yards, front doors. Pictures of Maria under the heading: "Beware HIV and spreading," and then it really gets nasty...
Maria Madison: "It says, 'This bitch gave me the HIV-AIDS, and I passed it to my wife.'"
Besides the nastiness, the poster gives Maria's full name, her home address and the car she drives. It says it's from a man, but Maria says its from a woman who was furious at Maria for dating a man she liked.
Maria Madison: "I don't see how a person can sleep at night knowing that you did something like this in the morning. How could you sleep at night."
Now, first of all, the poster is not true.
Patrick Fraser: "Do you have HIV?"
Maria Madison: "No, I do not have HIV. I've been tested for HIV for the past 15 years and never had not one STD in my life, thank God."
Maria just got tested again, not to prove it to her neighbors, but she is a single mom trying to raise four good children the right way and this attack hurt them.
Maria Madison: "When they saw the fliers, their first intentions was to be upset because they're children. They are innocent. They don't know. They really don't understand."
Maria and her kids know it's not true, but the hundreds of people who read the posters don't.
Maria Madison: "Have got threats saying I'm a dying bitch, and 'Oh, you have AIDS' and a bunch of stupidity, negative, hurting things that people say because of these fliers."
Maria says she can be certain who put out the posters because of the man in the middle.
Maria Madison: "He was aware of her doing it. He witnessed her throw them out of the car."
And the attacks didn't stop with the posters. Maria's phone is filled with hate-filled text messages.
Patrick Fraser: "How do you know that text is from her?"
Maria Madison: "It displays her phone number."
Maria has filed police reports, but the accused has not been charged, and the attacks go on.
Maria Madison: "This is something that I would like to see go further than me broadcasting it. I would like for this to be in the hands of some serious legal officials so that we can make stiffer punishments for people who do things like this."
But is spreading posters falsely accusing someone of having HIV a crime. Howard...
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, it is a crime. It is illegal to publish a malicious lie that tends to cause an injury to that person that could result in a breach of the peace. In other words, if the malicious lie likely would cause someone to want to punch you out, it is a crime. Whomever publishes the lie can go to jail for up to a year. In addition, you can sue them for money for the loss of your reputation, your good name and an invasion of your privacy."
This is the woman Maria is accusing of spreading the false fliers, Michelle Jean Touissant.
Patrick Fraser: "Simple question, did you put those fliers up?"
Michelle Jean Touissant: "No, never."
Patrick Fraser: "Did you make up the fliers?"
Michelle Jean Touissant: "No, never, I don't even have pictures of her. The fliers, they brought it to my house, it has picture of her. I don't have pictures of her. I don't know her."
Then Michelle and Maria both went to court, both asking for restraining orders against each other.
Judge Amy Karan: "You say she has been constantly threatening you and stalking you for the past two months?"
Judge Amy Karan denied Michelle's request for a restraining order and ruled in favor of Maria ordering Michelle to stay away from Maria for at least a year. But Maria says Michelle has ignored the judge.
Maria Madison: "I will need a lifetime restraining order, permanent restraining order. I would like her to be punished."
She wants her punished, but on the other hand, Maria also prays for Michelle.
Maria Madison: "And before I pray for her, I have to forgive her because she has children, and we both have to live on the same earth, and I just pray to God that she doesn't experience that hurting disease. I hope she's very careful with her personal lifestyle."
Well, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office is now involved. A spokesman told me they are investigating to see if Michelle violated the restraining order against her. Maria says she is. If the state attorney agrees, charges may be filed.
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