Rep. Laurie Rushing Sued for Defamation, Infliction of Emotional Distress

Earlier this week, State Rep. Laurie Rushing (R-Hot Springs) was sued in a North Carolina court by Capt. Thomas Watts (United States Marine Corps) for defamation stemming from her lies about his having anything to do with the death of Rushing’s daughter.

A copy of the complaint is below. What follows first, however, is background and context.

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On May 16, 2016, Tara Watts–the 29-year-old daughter of State Rep. Laurie Rushing–passed away suddenly at her home in North Carolina, where she lived with her husband, Capt. Thomas Watts, an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Tara and Thomas had met in Arkansas, where both had attended the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, so Tara’s body was brought back to Arkansas for her funeral and burial.

The medical examiner in North Carolina subsequently determined that Tara’s death was caused by pneumonia, exacerbated by complications caused by a fatty liver. Laurie Rushing was aware of these findings, inasmuch as Capt. Watts emailed her the same day that he received the results from the medical examiner, and because she was provided with a copy of the report.

Rather than take the word of a person trained to make such determinations, in the months immediately following Mrs. Watts’ death, Rushing contacted the Craven County Sheriff’s Office to pressure that office into doing further testing and investigation into Tara’s death, which Rushing repeatedly suggested and implied was not caused by pneumonia, despite her having no evidence to support this assertion. In fact, Rushing went so far as to fly herself, her husband, and her mother to North Carolina to speak to the Craven County Sheriff in person. When she was unsatisfied with the initial response to from the sheriff, Rushing apparently had at least one United States Senator contact officials in Craven County in an attempt to further the investigation into Tara’s death and to cause problems for Capt. Watts, who Rushing increasingly implied was somehow at fault.

Similarly, in the second half of 2016, Rushing contacted Child Protective Services (“CPS”) in North Carolina to file a report with the agency, claiming that Capt. Watts had abused his new wife and was neglecting his children such that the family was in need of state services. CPS opened an investigation into Rushing’s claims, determined them to be unfounded, and closed the file without any action taken against Capt. Watts or his family.1 Also around this same time, Rushing called a North Carolina State Representative and pushed that Representative to contact the CPS investigator and to intervene on Rushing’s behalf.

Because of Rushing’s actions regarding North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services/CPS, the state of North Carolina contacted the Watts children’s daycare, Capt. Watts’ employer (the United States Marine Corps), and Thomas’s wife’s employer. Capt. Watts and his wife had to meet with a North Carolina social worker to refute Rushing’s allegations.

Rushing also—either directly or through someone acting on her behalf—attempted to contact the Governor of North Carolina in late 2016 in an effort to put pressure on the authorities regarding Tara’s death. Ultimately, due to the constant contact and pressure from Rushing, the Craven County Sheriff’s Office undertook much additional testing and investigation into Tara’s death, at taxpayer expense, and returned a finding that Tara had died of natural causes, just as the medical examiner had initially stated.

These results were relayed to Rushing.

In January 2017, Rushing contacted the New Bern Sun Journal to complain, via a letter to the editor, about how the Craven County Sheriff’s Office had handled the investigation into Tara’s death. Then, in late 2017 or early 2018, Rushing reached out to Chip Hughes, candidate for Craven County Sheriff, telling Mr. Hughes that she had “had dealings with” the current Sheriff, that the current Sheriff “did not do his due diligence” in investigating Tara’s death, and that Rushing hoped Mr. Hughes would be elected.

Had Rushing stopped there, maybe everything would have gone away.

Instead, on or about February 20, 2018, Rushing, speaking to a group of people in a video posted online, stated falsely, “My son-in-law killed my daughter, so now he doesn’t want me to see my grandkids.”

Rushing’s statement is, of course, patently false. She knows this.

Capt. Thomas Watts has had enough of Laurie Rushing’s lies, enough of her defamatory comments. That is why, earlier this week, I, in conjunction with Lord Law Firm of Charlotte, North Carolina, filed a lawsuit on Capt. Watts’ behalf against Rushing in Craven County, North Carolina.

Download (PDF, 207KB)

The first cause of action is defamation per se. Under North Carolina law, defamation per se is considered inherently slanderous if it maintains that an individual is guilty of a crime. The complaint also alleges two additional causes of action in the alternative: intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Finally, based on Rushing’s willful and wanton behavior, the complaint seeks punitive damages.

Why would Rushing continually make false allegations about Capt. Watts? That is a question that only she can answer.2

It is important, however, that people know that, when Rushing talks about why she’s fighting for grandparents’ rights in the Arkansas legislature, much of what she says is based on slanderous falsehoods about a decorated U.S. Marine.

 


  1. Rushing seems to have a thing for filing false reports with government agencies.

  2. Unfortunately (for her), at least as to the defamation per se claim, “why” she lied about Thomas is irrelevant.

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