BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - A man falsely included in several episodes of a Florida sheriff's popular "Wheel of Fugitive" social media game show is suing the sheriff for defamation, saying the experience cost him a job and impacted his mental health.
David Austin Gay was not a fugitive when his picture appeared in four episodes of the show between January and February 2021. Instead, he was either sitting in jail after turning himself in on a probation violation or, in one case, already legally released.
A 2021 investigation by Florida Today, part of the USA TODAY Network, found Gay was one of 60 'fugitives' Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey had featured on the wheel across 45 episodes between February 2020 and February 2021 who were either in jail at the time the episode aired, already free or had no active arrest warrant.
In a court filing in Brevard on Wednesday, an attorney for Gay argued he was fired from a new job after his boss saw an episode of the show featuring Gay's picture.
"As he drove to his first day of work, his new employer informed him by phone to not bother showing up as he had seen Mr. GAY in IVEY and/or BCSO's 'Wheel of Fugitive' videos," Brevard attorney Jessica Travis wrote in the complaint.
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Travis argued in the filing the incident also harmed Gay's mental health, causing depression and anxiety, and did damage to his reputation "that has caused him to be regarded with scorn, contempt, ridicule, and disrespect which will continue in the foreseeable future," according to the complaint.
Gay is seeking unspecified damages in the case, including for loss of income and for pain and suffering.
"The lawsuit was filed because right is right and wrong is wrong," Travis said in a statement Friday. "No one has the right to cause compliant citizens to lose their jobs or live in fear of confrontation or arrest; not even the Sheriff."
A spokesman for Ivey did not immediately return a request for comment.
Gay spoke to reporters back in 2021 for the original Florida Today investigation, calling the experience "humiliating."
"Something needs to be done about it," Gay said at the time. "(The sheriff) should probably fact-check everything before he goes showing the whole world talking, telling everybody people's fugitives when they're not."
On three of the dates when episodes featuring Gay's picture aired, Gay was in custody after voluntarily turning himself in for violating probation on a prior felony battery charge from 2018. Adjudication was withheld in the case.
A separate charge of misdemeanor domestic violence that led to the violation in December 2020 was dismissed.
Ivey's "Wheel of Fugitive" has been lauded by supporters as a creative and entertaining way to engage the community. It's also had its share of critics, who have argued the show's format is dehumanizing, a waste of taxpayer funds, and a distraction from genuine law enforcement efforts.
The show brought Ivey national attention, drawing headlines across the country and ridicule from late-night talk show hosts, including the Daily Show's Trevor Noah, who lampooned the show in a December 2016 episode of the Comedy Central program.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Florida sheriff sued for 'Wheel of Fugitive' game show defamation