A former San Diego-based Navy SEAL, recipient of the Medal of Valor and numerous other awards, says the Washington Examiner defamed him by posting a picture of him for a story on another Navy SEAL who was tried on child pornography charges.
Chief Petty Officer Joseph Schmidt filed his lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court on Dec. 16.
The lawsuit centers around an April 2017 article entitled, “Navy SEAL Charged With Making Child Porn,” detailing allegations against Petty Officer 1st Class Gregory Kyle Seerden. Those allegations included child molestation and committing acts of bestiality. Seerden was arrested and later pleaded guilty to producing child pornography.
But it was the image that the Washington Examiner selected for the story about Seerden’s arrest, however, that raised issues for Schmidt, who was based in Coronado at the time.
Schmidt, according to a recent lawsuit, has spent nearly three years pleading with the Washington Examiner to remove his photo and issue a retraction.
“I have dealt with plenty of stressful situations over the course of my life and my service, but none of that prepared me for the pain that this fake story caused me and my family here,” said Schmidt in a statement to NBC 7. “I am angry that the Washington Examiner would not accept responsibility and apologize to my family for this. The last thing we wanted was for this public nightmare to start all over again.”
According to the complaint, the story on Seerden, paired with Schmidt’s photo, went viral.
“Within a few minutes, the article-and [Schmidt’s] photo went viral and were being viewed by people all over the world,” reads the complaint. “Multiple media outlets in Schmidt’s community ran the story with his photo attached as a direct consequence of Washington Examiner's egregious error. As a result, [his] reputation, built through a lifetime of military and community service, was smeared in his community and throughout the world.”
Strangers, as well as those he knew, approached Schmidt asking about the crimes, he said. His family lived in fear of death threats and were allegedly forced to sell their home and move to keep his family safe.
All along, Schmidt’s tried to get the paper to issue a retraction, according to his attorney Dan Gilleon.
“Washington Examiner’s mistake was fueled in part by the rush to be the first media outlet to publish what at the time was a high-profile story,” said Gilleon. “In their quest to do so they had a reckless disregard for the harm they caused, not only to my client, but his family and the Navy SEALs. It’s disappointing that such an esteemed newspaper shows such callous disrespect by refusing to issue a simple correction and apology.”
According to recent google searches, the Washington Examiner has removed the photo from the current article. But, according to Gilleon, too little too late.
“The Washington Examiner seeded the false story and with the internet, the rest is history,” Gilleon said.
But this is not Schmidt’s first attempt at going after the Washington Examiner in court. Schmidt filed a similar defamation in Florida State Court. That lawsuit, however, was thrown out because Schmidt did not live in Florida at the time.
It is also not the only time that Schmidt has been featured in national news stories.
Just months after Schmidt’s photo appeared on the Washington Examiner, the Navy announced it was investigating the Chief Special Warfare Officer for appearing in 29 adult films with his wife. According to media reports, Schmidt performed under the name “Jay Voom.” The videos did not feature Schmidt in uniform.
According to the lawsuit, Schmidt is now focusing on his work with the Make a Wish Foundation and volunteering with underprivileged children.
“Put simply,” reads the lawsuit, “Schmidt has dedicated his life to serving others.”