Screengrab: YouTube/Tayvin Galanakis
Two Iowa police officers are suing a teenager they arrested last year after the body-cam footage of the allegedly unwarranted arrest he posted on YouTube went viral. The officers initially alleged they experienced “emotional distress” and are now suing for defamation and invasion of privacy. The lawsuit, first reported by the Iowa Capital Dispatch last week, comes as a counterclaim to a federal lawsuit filed by the teenager earlier this year, alleging he was falsely arrested and that his civil rights had been violated.
Tayvin Galanakis sued Iowa’s Newton Police Department in February for a violation of his Constitutional rights, false arrest, and “negligent supervision and training” by the county. His lawsuit states that in late August of 2022, he was pulled over by officer Nathan Winters and Lieutenant Christopher Wing for not dimming his high beams to oncoming traffic. Galanakis was 19 at the time.Body-cam footage posted to YouTube by Galanakis is titled "Police Wrongfully Arrest 19 Year Old During Traffic Stop" and has 2 million views. In it, the officers said they pulled Galanakis over for having his brights on within the city limits. About four minutes into the encounter, Winters asked Galanakis how much he had had to drink that night, claiming his eyes were “watery and bloodshot” and that he could smell the “odor of alcohol.” The officers proceeded to perform a variety of field sobriety tests on Galanakis, including walking in a straight line and standing on one foot and counting to three. The officers performed a breathalyzer test, which showed Galanakis had a blood-alcohol content of 0.00. After that, the officers accused Galanakis of smoking cannabis based on the field sobriety test. Winters then arrested him. “He bombed sobriety,” Winters says on the phone, around 19 minutes into the body-cam footage posted to YouTube, noting that Galanakis blew “triple zeros.” A subsequent evaluation at the police station found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in Galanakis’s system, and he was released.
Around two weeks after the arrest, Galanakis posted the footage to YouTube with his own commentary added as captions. The two arresting officers claimed those captions, as well as clips and statements Galanakis posted to TikTok and Facebook, constituted defamation and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The officers’ lawsuit claims that Galanakis had “publicly posted knowingly false and shocking statements” about both officers’ “training, experience, and qualifications to be a certified law enforcement officer,” as well as “mocked the mental fitness and capacity” and “questioned the competence, fitness, and moral character” of both officers. This is not the first time cops have sued civilians for posting videos of them. After an Ohio police department raided rapper Afroman’s house on suspicion of drug possession and kidnapping, Afroman released an album about the raid, using security camera footage from his house in the music videos. The cops sued him for emotional distress, and said that they had suffered “embarrassment, ridicule, [and] humiliation.”It quotes Galanakis as posting on Facebook that he “[didn’t] even want to refer to him as officer winters, this guy is on the slow side of the spectrum,” and that “he sounded like a little kid who was roll playing [sic] a cop during recess. I’m thinking in my head no way this guy pass training.” Another post is quoted as stating that both officers had “performed horribly that night.”
Captions in the YouTube video that the counterclaim quoted read that Wing “sounds like he’s faded asl [as hell],” and that Galanakis had been “kidnapped then raped by the NPD all night.”The lawsuit claims that such statements caused the officers “to suffer: pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of community reputation, loss of employability, [and] loss of time and inconvenience bringing this action.” Neither party’s legal team responded to a request for comment.In two decisions in May and September, U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher dismissed almost all of the officers’ claims. Locher deemed most of Galanakis’s captions as “non-actionable statement[s] of opinion” or “rhetorical hyperbole,” which are both considered non-defamatory. This included the caption where Galanakis said he was “raped” by the police department, which Locher said was “distasteful,” but non-actionable.“As to most of the statements identified in his counterclaims, Winters has not alleged sufficient facts to allow a reasonable viewer to conclude that they are capable of defamatory meaning,” Locher wrote in the first of the two decisions. He writes that most of the statements referenced “simply summarize what was happening in corresponding video footage. Wing does not explain how a reasonable listener could have construed these statements as ‘false,’ much less why they might have defamatory meaning.” The only counts Locher has not dismissed are defamation and invasion of privacy against the officers related to Galanakis' claim that Winters had been convicted of domestic abuse. “Nathan Winter of the Newton Police Department convicted of domestic abuse after beating up his ex girlfriend,” Galanakis wrote in one caption. A subsequent caption stated that Winters had “beat the shit out of” his girlfriend. Though Winters had a protective order filed against him, the counterclaim states that he has not been charged or convicted of domestic abuse. Locher agreed that on this basis claims of defamation and false-light invasion of privacy for both Winter and Wing (because of the implication that Wing did nothing to discipline Winters) can proceed. There is yet no set date for a trial, though the parties are expected to file an update to the court on October 20.