Va. family wins internet trolling case

WASHINGTON — A Sterling, Virginia, family won a $1.3 million settlement in a lawsuit related to online bullying.

William Moreno, 33, told The Washington Post internet trolls took aim at him and his family after he posted controversial comments about 9/11 and child molestation on a forum called Fairfax Underground.

William, who suffers from Asperger syndrome, doesn’t deny his comments were offensive, but he told WTOP they weren’t meant to be taken seriously.

After the posts were made, the family endured daily harassment both online and offline from 2013 to 2014, according to their lawyer David Trinnes. Not only were there online threats, the family also said someone went as far as breaking into their home.

In one post, someone claiming to be William wrote, “I JUST SHOT MY PARENTS NOW I WILL KILL MY SISTER.” Someone reported the post to police, who sent a SWAT team to raid the family’s home.

“When we got to the front door, we saw all these rifles pointing at us,” William’s mother Sharon Moreno said.

William, his father Richard and Sharon eventually decided they had had enough and filed a lawsuit against a man they believe was behind the harassment, Michael Josef Basl of Henrico County, Virginia.

After a six-day trial, Basl was found liable for defamation, stalking and causing emotional distress.

“It shows that the jury recognizes this as very serious, very outrageous, extremely intolerable,” Trinnes said.

When asked by the Post, Basl denied the allegations against him.

The Morenos said they don’t expect Basl to be able to pay the $1.3 million that was awarded to them, but they hope the outcome of the case will send a message that online harassment is a serious offense.

“I guess I hope it is a deterrent for some people like him [Basl],” William said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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