Pennsylvania State Police confirmed Steve Stephens is dead after a nationwide manhunt ensued for days. Stephens was wanted for shooting a stranger and putting a video of it on Facebook.
CLEVELAND — The family of an Ohio man whose shooting death was captured on video and uploaded on Facebook has sued the social media network.
The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 19 by Robert Godwin Sr.’s family, alleges that the social media network was negligent and failed to warn authorities of a possible threat.
Steve Stephens was named as the man who shot and killed Godwin on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, putting video of the fatal shooting on Facebook. Godwin, 74, was shot at close range while walking home. After a nationwide manhunt, Stephens was seen in Erie, Pa., two days later. After a police pursuit, Stephens shot himself, police said.
Police originally said Stephens broadcast the shooting on live-streaming service Facebook Live, but in fact he posted the video footage on Facebook.
The lawsuit claims Stephens wrote a Facebook post with threatening thoughts on Easter Sunday, minutes before he documented the fatal shooting.
“We want people to feel safe using Facebook, which is why we have policies in place prohibiting direct threats, attacks, serious threats of harm to public and personal safety and other criminal activity. We give people tools to report content that violates our policies, and take swift action to remove violating content when it’s reported to us,” Natalie Naugle, Facebook’s associate general counsel said in a statement. “We sympathize with the victim’s family, who suffered such a tragic and senseless loss.”
The violent events led to Facebook issuing a statement and Mark Zuckerberg addressing the events at the company’s annual developer conference.
“We have a full road map of products to help build groups and community … help build a more informed society … help keep our communities safe,” Zuckerberg said. “And we have a lot more to do here. And we’re reminded of this, this week, by the tragedy in Cleveland. And, our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin Sr. And we have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”
The lawsuit notes Facebook’s “sophisticated algorithms” and “data mining” but says the social network didn’t take any action when the first post was made by Stephens. Facebook said the violent video was removed 23 minutes after Facebook was first notified of it.
“What this lawsuit is doing is trying to take that, the ability of Facebook to identify every aspect of a person, and extend that to a duty to keep the community safe,” said Cleveland attorney and law professor Ian Friedman after reviewing the lawsuit.
Freidman is not involved in the lawsuit, but said the lawsuit presented by Godwin’s family could prompt significant change.
“The question that’s going to be answered here, is what is Facebook’s duty, duty of care?”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, costs, expenses and attorney fees, and “any further relief” that the court “may deem appropriate.”
Contributing: Jessica Guynn and John Bacon, USA TODAY. Follow Amani Abraham on Twitter: @AmaniAbraham
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