Until November 11, 2013, musician Wilfredo Batista lived a pretty normal life. The Puerto Rico native had good credit, and was well-liked by friends and neighbors. But on that Monday a year-and-a-half ago, he learned he had unknowingly stepped foot in the wrong zip code: Miami’s 33138.
While filming a story there, a photographer from WPLG Local Channel 10 got Batista on camera, stepping out of his car. Batista says the channel then used the footage as part of a promotional advertisement for an upcoming news special about the high concentration of registered sex offenders living in the El Portal zip code — the most in one residential zip code in Miami-Dade County — without first consulting him. The 20-second advertisement was played repeatedly throughout the day, creating a buzz for the upcoming program.
Now, the 43-year-old Batista, who says he is absolutely not a registered sex offender, is suing the news channel for broadcasting defamatory and false statements about him — which he calls "ambush journalism."
"His friends saw him on television and told him about it," says Theodore Enfield, Batista’s attorney. "Obviously it was looked upon very poorly by his community."
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A search on the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Search confirmed there are no registered sex offenders with the plaintiff’s name. Miami-Dade County Police Department's public records also do not show or list Batista as a sex offender, according to Courthouse News.
According to the official complaint, filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court, Batista has since suffered "mental anguish, ruin of a good name, credit and reputation." He has been "shunned by many persons with whom he previously had social or business relations," it reads. He is suing for compensatory damages on claims of libel, invasion of privacy and for attorney's fees.
The zip code has a high concentration of sex offenders (roughly 119 at the time of the broadcast) due to a "patchwork of laws" that limits the places where they can live, according to the news program. Sex offenders are prohibited from living within a certain distance from schools, parks and day cares.
According to an attorney for the news channel, it is WPLG’s practice not to comment on pending litigation.