Idaho hospital sues Ammon Bundy and associate for defamation

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho hospital that went on lockdown in March after far-right activists protested outside is suing Ammon Bundy, Diego Rodriguez and their various political organizations for defamation and “sustained online attacks.”

St. Luke’s Health System filed the lawsuit Wednesday against Bundy, his gubernatorial campaign, and his People’s Rights Network organization. The hospital system is also suing Diego Rodriguez — the grandfather of the child involved in the protection case — as well as Rodriguez’s website Freedom Man Press and the Freedom Man political action committee. Rodriguez is an associate of Bundy’s who has been active in Bundy’s political campaign.

The child protection case involved a 10-month-old baby who was temporarily removed from family custody in March after officials determined the infant was “suffering from severe malnourishment” and at risk of injury or death, the Meridian Police Department said at the time. The baby’s parents had refused to let officers check on the child’s welfare after the family canceled a medical appointment, the police statement said.

Bundy, who is well-known for participating in armed standoffs with law enforcement, was arrested the following day on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after he protested at a different hospital where he believed the baby was being treated. He also asked his followers to protest at the hospital and the homes of child protection service workers, law enforcement officers and others involved in the child protection case. Rodriguez, meanwhile, wrote on his website that the baby was “kidnapped,” and suggested that the state and people involved in the case were engaged in “child trafficking” for profit.

The men also told followers to protest at the Boise hospital on March 15. The facility went on lockdown for more than an hour, diverting emergency patients to other area hospitals, after hospital officials determined the protests presented a safety risk.

In the lawsuit, St. Luke’s Health System contends that the two men “worked together to manufacture a false narrative of a state-sponsored child kidnapping and trafficking ring” that included the hospital, the Department of Health and Welfare, law enforcement officials and others.

“They realized the facts surrounding DHW’s intervention could be mischaracterized as a governmental conspiracy to kidnap, traffic and kill children,” the hospital system’s attorney wrote in the lawsuit. “Then, in turn, Defendants realized they could establish themselves as crusaders against their falsely manufactured governmental conspiracy.”

The defendants wanted to generate interest in Bundy’s political campaign for governor, raise their public profiles and create financial gain in the form of donations from followers, the hospital system contends.

Neither Bundy nor Rodriguez immediately responded to emails requesting comment.

St. Luke’s is asking for more than $50,000 in damages plus legal fees in an amount to be proven in trial. The hospital system also wants the defendants to be barred from making defamatory statements.

In a statement, St. Luke’s said it would donate any award of monetary damages to a program for at-risk children called Children At Risk Evaluation Service.

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