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A Philadelphia police officer has filed a defamation lawsuit against 6ABC and one of its reporters over a February broadcast about the death of the officer's girlfriend.
Officer Joseph Sanchez filed the civil suit against ABC's Philadelphia affiliate, WPVI-TV, and reporter Wendy Saltzman in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas last week.
Sanchez was not identified in 6ABC's story because he has not been charged with a crime, but Sanchez publicly identified himself by filing the lawsuit against the station, in which he seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
The suit alleges that Saltzman's Feb. 25 story titled "Investigation: Death of Officer's Fiancee Questioned; Calls to Reopen Case" made false statements that Sanchez "physically abused and murdered" his girlfriend, Erica Koschman, whose death was ruled a suicide by the Medical Examiner's Office.
Sanchez and Koschman began dating in May 2010 and lived together, according to the suit.
Koschman had a "history of mental illness and substance abuse," and she previously tried to commit suicide, Sanchez claims in his suit.
On Jan. 11, 2012, Koschman, then 29, shot herself in front of Sanchez at their home, the suit said. Both the Medical Examiner's Office and the Philadelphia Police Department determined the death was a suicide, according to the suit.
In 6ABC's report, police spokesman Lt. John Stanford is quoted as saying that the department investigated Koschman's death four separate times and each time it was determined to be a suicide.
The station based its story, in part, on interviews with Koschman's mother, Sharon Koschman, and on a Police Advisory Commission letter that Saltzman said was leaked to the station. The letter called for the department to reopen the case.
In her report, Saltzman said the basis for the Police Advisory Commission letter included "a history of alleged domestic violence as evidenced in this hospital emergency room report" for Erica Koschman.
Snippets of that alleged emergency room report - saying "PT STATES BOYFRIEND IS ABUSIVE" and "PT AFRAID TO CALL POLICE BECAUSE HER BOYFRIEND IS A POLICE OFFICER" - were magnified in 6ABC's story.
In his suit, Sanchez said the couple had no history of domestic violence and that no such domestic violence reports exist from the hospital or police.
In 6ABC's story, Koschman is quoted as saying that her daughter "didn't shoot herself. Period. It wasn't a suicide."
Sanchez claims that he was not allowed to comment before 6ABC's piece was published, but Saltzman said in her story that the officer declined requests for an interview.
As a result of the televised news report and the online version of the story, Sanchez alleges his reputation "has been severely diminished" and he has "suffered severe emotional stress."
A spokesman for 6ABC said the station had no comment on the lawsuit. Sanchez's attorney, Gary Schafkopf, also declined to comment on the suit.
Published: The Philadelphia Inquirer