Tuesday, June 18, 2024

UPDATED: Jury awards $1.1 million to drag performer

Staff Writer | May 24, 2024 3:30 PM

COEUR d’ALENE — A jury has awarded more than $1.1 million in damages to the drag performer who sued a blogger for defamation.

The unanimous verdict was returned Friday. The jury found that blogger Summer Bushnell defamed Post Falls resident Eric Posey when she accused him of exposing himself to the crowd while he performed in drag at the Coeur d’Alene City Park bandshell in June 2022.

“The judicial system did what needed to be done,” Posey said after hearing the verdict Friday. 

Jurors awarded Posey $926,000 in compensatory damages for defamation. Because Posey proved that Bushnell knew her allegations were false when she made them or that she made the accusations with “reckless disregard” for the truth, the jury awarded additional punitive damages in the amount of $250,000.

The day of Posey’s performance, June 11, 2022, Bushnell posted a video of herself discussing the mass arrest of Patriot Front members near City Park, as well as footage from Posey’s performance.

“Why did no one arrest the man in a dress who flashed his genitalia to minors and people in the crowd?” she said in the video. “No one said anything about it and there’s video. I’m going to put up a blurred video to prove it.”

The next day, Bushnell published an edited video she had received from local videographer Jeremy Lokken, which included a blur over Posey’s pelvis. Bushnell told others that the blur concealed “fully exposed genitals” and urged people to contact police.

The edited video garnered many thousands of views, sparking national news coverage and a police investigation. City prosecutors ultimately declined to file charges and stated publicly that the unedited video showed no exposure.

Bushnell was expressionless as she hurried out of the courtroom Friday.

Attorney Colton Boyles, who represents Bushnell, told jurors that his client’s allegations were “close to the line” but did not cross the line into defamation. He maintained that Bushnell’s “honest belief” is that Posey exposed himself, though she admitted on the witness stand that she never saw the “fully exposed genitals” she described to others.

“That remains her steadfast testimony to this day,” Boyles said.

After hearing the verdict, Posey burst into tears, embracing his lawyers and friends.

“The jury’s verdict demonstrates a clear message to this community that you have to be truthful,” said Wendy J. Olsen, one of Posey’s attorneys. “The jury did good, hard work. They rendered a tremendous service to the community.”

Posey said Bushnell’s false allegations have changed his life. He said he’s received death threats and faced harassment while edited images of him dancing at the bandshell became the symbol of a national movement against drag. He said the support of his friends helped him survive.

“Imagine being in a dark hole where you have nobody and you felt the whole world turn their back on you,” he said in court Thursday. “But somehow, you were surrounded by warriors, true people of Idaho — not transplants, true people of this soil. I am fortunate to say I have people like that around me, people that lifted me up.”

The jury deliberated for about three and a half hours Friday after a five-day trial. Before returning the verdict, jurors asked the court if they could direct Bushnell to take down her posts about Posey and publicly apologize to him. First District Judge Ross Pittman, who presided over the trial, indicated they could not do so.

As of Friday evening, the videos remain on Bushnell’s website and Facebook page.

Outside the courthouse, jurors approached Posey to shake his hand or hug him.

“I’m really glad you got the justice you deserve,” one juror said, embracing Posey.

“I’m so sorry you went through this,” another juror said.

In a statement published Friday, the North Idaho Pride Alliance expressed gratitude to the jurors and affirmed its commitment to “ensuring the safety and well-being” of North Idaho’s LGBTQ+ community. NIPA organized the annual Pride in the Park celebration where Posey performed in 2022.