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Parents sue Tampa radio station, others over son's altered photo

Published:   |   Updated: April 30, 2013 at 07:17 AM
TAMPA -

A Nashville family is suing Cox Media Group and a website owner in federal court because a show on Tampa radio station WHPT-102.5 FM posted an altered photograph of their son - who has Down syndrome - on its website.

In a lawsuit filed April 22, Pamela and Bernard Holland said that the use of their son's photo on the website of WHPT's "The Cowhead Show," hosted by Mike Calta, was malicious and defamatory.

The station is owned by Cox Media Group. Spokesman Andy McDill wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Monday that the company is looking into the matter.

"It's our company policy, however, not to comment on ongoing litigation," McDill wrote.

Adam Holland's photo was not on the show's website on Monday.

The Hollands say that the altered image has caused them "severe mental anguish and emotional distress," and "humiliation, fear and embarrassment." They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Larry Crain, the Holland family's Nashville attorney, said Monday that this case highlights the need for strengthening laws involving altered and unauthorized photos.

"Many of the laws protect celebrities and who, for name recognition purposes, have a special interest in protecting their name and privacy," he said. "This is a case where an innocent individual has been victimized. The Holland family and this young boy are the picture of innocence, and for him to be the victim of this type of maligning is a case that calls for toughening of the laws in this area."

Crain said that this case has "touched a nerve" with a lot of people and his office has received outraged calls from around the country.

The Hollands said in the lawsuit that the photo of their son was taken in 2004 when Adam Holland was 17 and in an art class. In the original photo, Adam is smiling at the camera and holding up a drawing.

In July 2012, according to court documents, the Hollands were contacted by a friend who saw the photo on the radio station website. The photo had been altered to show the words "Retarded News" in place of his original drawing.

The altered image made its way to a Facebook group called "Spread the Word to End the Word," which raises awareness about the hurtful and derogatory connotation of the word "retarded."

The lawsuit said that Michael Sharkey, the program director for WHPT, wrote the group regarding Adam's photo. The lawsuit quoted Sharkey's email, which said that the "Retarded News" segment is "is designed to highlight odd stories that are seemingly always in the news."

"These stories are NOT about disabled individuals," Sharkey wrote. "However, in our investigation, we noted the picture that he was using did denote a person with Down syndrome. We have removed that picture from our page and we are removing any reference to handicapped or disabled individuals."

Sharkey apologized for "any grief this might have caused."

The Hollands' lawsuit also names Dave Brown, the owner of an Oswego, N.Y.-based website called "Sign Generator," as a defendant. The website, which charges people to download images, allegedly posted Adam's photo under the heading "Retarded Handicap Generator."

On Monday, Adam Holland's photo was on several different sign generator sites. It's unclear if those sites were affiliated with the Oswego company.

Another defendant is Russell LaLevee, who posted Adam's photo on his Flickr account with the caption, "just a stupid photo of the sick retarded kid that lives down my street that my dogs hate," according to the lawsuit.

Brown and LaLevee could not be located through public records for comment.

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Pamela and Bernard Holland say that “The Cowhead Show” posted a photo of their son, Adam, on a website. Adam's photo - which showed him holding a sign - was altered to read "Retarded News."

The family says the station was not authorized to use Adam's photo. The lawsuit said that a "random sign generator" website also used the photo.

The Hollands filed suit on April 22 and says the altered photo is malicious and defamatory.

A spokesman for the Cox Media Group-owned station declined to comment.

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A Nashville family is suing a media company and a website owner in federal court because a Tampa radio show posted an altered photograph of their son - who has Down syndrome - on its website.

Pamela and Bernard Holland say that "The Cowhead Show" on WHPT-FM posted a photo of their son, Adam, on a website. Adam's photo - which showed him holding a sign - was altered to read "Retarded News."

The family says the station was not authorized to use Adam's photo. The lawsuit said that a "random sign generator" website also used the photo.

The Hollands filed suit on April 22 and says the altered photo is malicious and defamatory.

A spokesman for the Cox Media Group-owned station declined to comment.

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