MISSION, Texas (KVEO) — Two current and former Sharyland Independent School District (ISD) board of trustees members have filed a lawsuit against a former student that they say defamed them on social media.
The lawsuit claims that Dante Flores-Demarchi and two more unnamed individuals used “deliberately false statements to defame” Sharyland ISD board member Jose “Pepe” Garcia and former board member Melissa Smith on social media posts.
According to the lawsuit, Flores-Demarchi runs the “Red’s Voice” Facebook page which posts about happenings within Sharyland ISD. However, the defense argues that Flores-Demarchi does not control this account.
Garcia and Smith cite posts on “Red’s Voice” and another since-deleted Facebook page “Voters Against Sexual Assault” created defamatory content against the board members and damaged their reputation.
The posts state that the board members support sexual assault, refer to them as rats and snakes using emojis, and engage in corrupt activities, according to the lawsuit.
However, Flores-Demarchi and the other defendants are claiming that the First Amendment protects the political opinions, rhetorical hyperboles, and parodies portrayed in the Facebook posts.
Their side of the lawsuit states that the context in which these social media posts are made is not to be taken as fact and instead as opinion.
Lane Haygood, one of the defense attorneys in the case, reached out to KVEO and provided a statement on the lawsuit:
“I am saddened that the Plaintiffs chose to try to intimidate my client by filing a defamation suit without what we believe is good cause. Thankfully, the Texas Legislature has provided us the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which is used to vitiate and defend the rights of all Texans to speak freely without the fear that they will be hauled into court and amass significant legal fees defending against baseless defamation claims. I am proud to represent Mr. Flores-Demarchi and to defend him against the claims that he has said or done anything defamatory regarding the Plaintiffs, and look forward to our day in court.”
Additionally, they state that Garcia and Smith cannot prove that these posts had any real damage to their reputation.
The lawsuit was first filed in April and the defense’s first motion was to file for dismissal.
Several motions to dismiss the case have been made in the months-long legal battle between the two sides.
The next scheduled motion for dismissal is scheduled for July 8.
On Thursday, the court agreed to meet in August to discuss the dismissal of one of the unnamed defendants from the lawsuit.
Accusations of Sharyland ISD board members supporting sexual assault stem from claims made in January 2020 of sexual assault taking place with members of the Sharyland Pioneer High School Swim Team in November 2019.
While the district noted it was looking into the incident in January 2020, no information about the sexual assault was ever made public and no charges were brought forward.
However, the district did condemn social media posts circulating at the time and labeled them “false” and “inaccurate.”
Flores-Demarchi spoke to KVEO in January 2020 while organizing a rally for sexual assault survivors.
“We want Sharyland to start putting their children first and really thinking about the impact they can have on these students,” said Flores-Demarchi in 2020.