Apr 19, 2023 - News

Chesterfield is helping a cop sue a TikToker

Illustration of a gavel hovering over a phone with an image on the screen of a gavel hovering over a phone, in a recursive pattern.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A persistent critic of the Chesterfield County Police Department is facing a $50,000 defamation lawsuit brought with the backing of the county.

What’s happening: Police Sgt. Kevin Flynn is accusing a local nurse named Charlotte Carter of defamation, alleging that she falsely accused him of stalking in posts on Twitter and TikTok.

  • The county attorney's office is representing him in the lawsuit.

Why it matters: Defamation lawsuits aren't unusual, but the county government’s role in the case is. And that could be seen as using government resources to stifle criticism of public officials, says Ian Kalish, an instructor at the UVA First Amendment Clinic.

Context: Carter's saga with the police department began in March 2022 when she posted a video on TikTok questioning the department's handling of a report she had made of suspected child abuse.

  • The video drew nearly 5 million views.
  • Carter — who has amassed more than 200,000 TikTok followers — continued her criticism of the department in subsequent videos.

Zoom in: The conflict escalated last month when Carter posted the stalking allegations. She said Flynn followed and stopped her in a parking lot after she spoke at a county board meeting about her concerns with the police department and its leadership.

  • The county attorney's office responded with a cease and desist notice, demanding she stop her social media "attacks” on Flynn, police chief Jeffrey Katz and an array of other officers.
  • Surveillance footage included in Flynn's lawsuit shows he was at the gym during the county meeting and, per his lawsuit, has never met Carter.

What they’re saying: Carter acknowledged to Axios that she misidentified Flynn. She shared apologies online and says she deleted the original posts.

  • The lawsuit is unwarranted, she says, and amounts to "intimidation for exercising her constitutional rights."

Between the lines: Carter's lawyer, Tom Roberts, has filed motions to disqualify county attorneys from representing Flynn, asserting that the case involves a personal matter and that the county attorneys do not have the legal authority to bring such a lawsuit.

The other side: A spokesperson for the county did not respond to questions from Axios.

  • But in his own Facebook post last year, Katz dismissed criticism the department received on TikTok without naming Carter.
  • "I won’t stand by passively while someone sits behind a keyboard and attempts to disparage the work our people do to keep the children in our community safe," he wrote. "I learned long ago that leaving only one voice out there to tell a story leaves people feeling anxious and scared."

What’s next: A trial has been set for October.


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