CHARLES TOWN - A Jefferson County man has filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart and members of the county police department after he was accused of child pornography, which he claims is wrong and damaged his reputation.
Sam Bellotte filed the suit May 23 in Jefferson Circuit Court against Detective Tracy L. Edwards, Deputy P.G. Smith and Wal-Mart.
According to the suit, Bellotte went to a Wal-Mart in Winchester, Va., on May 30, 2007, to print photographs he had taken, using one of the self-service photo printers.
Bellotte printed his photos, placed them in an envelope and presented the ticket to the Wal-Mart employee, the suit says.
According to the suit, the assistant manager told Bellotte that Wal-Mart had to check the photographs to determine if there were any nude photographs.
"Sam Bellote then advised the Wal-Mart personnel that there were in fact nude photographs and that they were not to look at them," the suit says.
Wal-Mart management then took the photos, agreeing to shred them, and Bellotte left the photographs with the understanding that they would not be viewed, the suit says.
Bellotte claims Wal-Mart then illegally invaded his privacy by looking at the photos during the shredding process.
Upon seeing the photos, Wal-Mart personnel did a register search, obtaining Bellotte's debit and credit card information, and shared the photographs and credit information with law enforcement officers, which Bellotte claims further invaded his privacy, the suit says.
According to the suit, Wal-Mart told the officers the photos contained sexually explicit photographs of children, which Bellotte claims is false and constitutes defamation.
On May 31, 2007, Edwards and Smith led a S.W.A.T. team and other state and federal officers on a search of Bellotte's property while his wife and children were there. According to the suit, the officers repeatedly said in front of Bellotte's wife and children that Bellotte was a sick person and a child pornographer.
According to the suit, Edwards made comments to the Martinsburg Journal, accusing Bellotte of child pornography, that he would be charged in federal court and that the photos depicted a child of Asian ancestry. The statements became disseminated over the Internet, the suit says.
Bellotte claims he suffered extreme emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation, as well as injury to his reputation. He claims the defendants were intentionally reckless, malicious and grossly negligent.
Bellotte seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Attorney Mark Jenkinson is representing Bellotte.
Jefferson Circuit Court case number 08-C-212