Liberty County has accepted a settlement agreement with a family that sued the county for allegedly damaging their reputation and good name during the investigation of a reported mass grave on their property.
The Liberty County Commissioners Court agreed on Oct. 23 to pay the couple, Joe Bankston and Gena Charleton, $15,000 each to settle the lawsuit filed on June 5 of this year in the 193rd Judicial District in Dallas.
The couple owned a property in the Hardin area that gained international attention when it was reported that a mass grave of dozens of children had been found at their residence. The couple sued Liberty County along with several other national media outlets.
The media groups being sued by Bankson and Charlton — KPRC, Belo Corp.
The New York Times, CNN America, Thompson Reuters and ABC News — are accused of publishing false statements claiming that bodies had been found on the property or for republishing statements made by other media, thereby making the statements their own.
On June 6, 2011, deputies from the sheriff’s office, assisted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, searched the Bankson-Charlton home on CR 2048 at CR 2049 after the sheriff’s office received a tip that multiple bodies had been buried on the property. Using cadaver dogs, authorities scanned the property, but found nothing.
Hours later, after the story gained global media attention, it was revealed that the uncorroborated tip had, in fact, come from a psychic.
No bodies were found on the property.
The lawsuit also claimed that the sheriff’s department did not properly secure the home after leaving. Stray dogs entered the home and defecated throughout the residence.
By settling the case, the county avoids additional litigation costs since the lawsuit was filed in Dallas.