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Salisbury business owner amends defamation suit; sues city councilman, news station, city

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Bounce City owner Jehan Allen Davis, who last month filed a defamation lawsuit against local attorney Todd Paris and blog owner Steve Mensing, has amended her complaint to include the city of Salisbury, WSOC-TV News and City Councilman Kenny Hardin.

The amended complaint, which was filed Friday, says that Hardin made statements to the Charlotte area TV station in April 2016 and on his personal Facebook page this year regarding a reported shooting in downtown Salisbury on April 17, 2016.

Davis, who co-owns Bounce City with her husband, Guanah Davis, is seeking compensation for damages she says resulted from a decline in revenue after a negative article was published on the blog, Rowan Free Press.

Davis, who filed the civil lawsuit as Davis Venture Capital LLC doing business as Bounce City, says in her amended complaint that the news station initially reported the shooting occurred at her business and later corrected the broadcast to say the shooting occurred near the North Church Street business.

In her suit, Davis maintains that the blog falsely reported that gunfire came from directly outside the business.

Rowan Free Press is a blog created by Mensing, a Madison, Wisconsin, resident. Mensing’s Facebook page lists himself as editor in chief and publisher of Rowan Free Press. In the April 2016 article, Paris is referred to as associate editor.

The defendants refused to retract the article, the suit says, and Davis has experienced a “cataclysmic decline in revenue which continues to the present day.”

Councilman Hardin had no comment. City Communications Director Linda McElroy said it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation. The Post also reached out to a WSOC-TV program director for comment.

Davis says in her suit that Hardin implied in an interview with the news station that Bounce City bore responsibility for the shootings. She’s suing Hardin individually and in his capacity as a city councilman.

She said on May 15, 2016, Hardin placed on his personal Facebook a posting captioned “Bounce City Video.” The post contained the following statements: “The party that took place inside the Bounce City children’s play facility before gun fire erupted with two teenagers being shot” along with the “explicit language and adult party images … heightens my concerns about the nature of the business and the services offered.”

She continues that on or about May 18, 2016, WSOC ran a live report that said, “Two teens were shot at a bounce house business (Bounce City) over the weekend.” Later in the day, the newscast was changed to say, “two teens were shot near a bounce house business.”

Both statements were untrue, Davis says in her suit. According to Davis, the Salisbury Police Department informed the news station they were unsure where the shootings occurred. She said WSOC denied her request for a retraction.

Davis said Hardin interviewed with the news station saying, “If you’re going to be a children’s playhouse, be a children’s playhouse.” The broadcast also said Hardin sent an email to city leaders seeking a suspension of Bounce City’s license.

Hardin went on to say, “You can’t get people wrapped up into a frenzy and then say, ‘Well when they leave, it’s not my problem.’ ”

On May 19, 2016, another news story by WSOC said, “The city of Salisbury is shutting down late-night teen parties inside Bounce City after two teens were shot near the business during an after-prom party.”

Davis said both statements — that the city was shutting the business down and the shooting was near the business — are untrue.

Davis said on April 21, 2017, Hardin posted on his official city of Salisbury Facebook page a four-page rant about Davis. She included his statements, which in part say that Hardin said he never made any comments on the “illegal and unauthorized activities that were occurring inside the business or connected to violence that occurred outside of it.”

He says he posted a video a year ago that he received that showed an adult party taking place inside the business well after midnight featuring a rap group called Slut Bucket. Hardin said he simply posted the video on his personal page with the caption, “This is concerning.”

He also said in the post that Davis has been involved in domestic violence incidents at the magistrate’s office.

“I won’t comment on domestic violence incidents that have occurred with her, but people are now realizing that they hitched their horse to the wrong wagon and are trying to circle back with me. Sorry, I don’t go backwards,” the lawsuit says Hardin wrote.

Hardin also says Davis “once again threatened to sue me.”

She said in the court documents that Paris acting on a phone call tip from Mensing went to Bounce City to “investigate” the shots heard.

Paris took pictures of people standing outside the business, the court filings said, but he made no attempt to speak with anyone inside Bounce City, including patrons, the husband of the owner, or security guards. One of the security guards was a Rowan County sheriff’s deputy.

“Had he interviewed any occupant of Bounce City at the time he took the pictures, he would have learned that no one fired shots inside Bounce City, or anywhere in the immediate vicinity,” the suit says.

The lawsuit says an article titled “Pap-pap-pap SHOTZBURY: Shooting at ‘Bounce City’ Livingstone College Party on North Church Street Saturday Night in Salisbury” was written on April 17, 2016.

In her suit, Davis said Paris also posted the article on this Facebook page for more than 1,000 people to view and more than 100 people replied to the post with negative comments about the business. Davis said she informed Paris the article was inaccurate and libelous. She also emailed Mensing requesting a retraction of the article.

She says Mensing replied with, “Sorry Jehan, too many witnesses, nothing to discuss.”

Davis says in her suit she made subsequent attempts to get both Mensing and Paris to retract the article. Mensing then emailed Davis telling her to “cease electronic and telephonic harassment.” She said Paris emailed her telling her to “cease and desist” and, if she didn’t like it, “sue me,” he wrote, according to the lawsuit.

Davis is seeking compensatory damages and wants a jury trial.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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