Polygraph operator Patrick T. Coffey of San Francisco has threatened AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke with a defamation lawsuit. In a letter (877 kb PDF) dated 4 September 2009 sent by U.S. mail and fax, Coffey’s attorney, Carleton L. Briggs, demands “a full and complete retraction” of the 20 August 2009 blog post, “Is Patrick T. Coffey Fit to Be Screening Police Applicants?”
The letter, ominously titled “Coffey v. SF Weekly, Maschke, et al.” begins (hyperlinks supplied):
I represent Patrick T. Coffey, the subject of an article entitled “Is Patrick Coffey Fit to Be Screening Police Applicants?” which appeared on your blog on August 20, 2009. Your article referred to, and contained a hyperlink to, an article entitled “The Lie Detective” by Matt Smith in the August 19-25 issue of SF Weekly, Volume 28, Number 30. I enclose a copy of your article and of the SF Weekly article, which quotes both you and your blog.
It should be noted that the SF Weekly article does not quote this blog. Rather, it quotes posts that Coffey made to the AntiPolygraph.org message board. Briggs continues:
The SF Weekly article attributes various quotes and opinions to Mr. Coffey, some of which are not his and some of which are taken out of context to make him appear prejudiced. For example, Mr. Coffey did not refer to any such questions or topics as “Are you racist? A dissembler? A bully?”, and there is no professional in his field who would ever test with such questions, which are not testable subjects with the polygraph.
It is true that these exact questions would not likely be asked in the context of a pre-employment polygraph examination. But while the question, “Are you a racist?” might not be asked in those terms, until recently the Los Angeles Police Department asked applicants the following relevant question while strapped to the polygraph: “Based on your personal bias, have you ever committed a negative act against anyone?” And while “Are you a dissembler?” might not be asked in those words, the question “Did you ever lie to get out of trouble?” is a commonly used probable-lie “control” question. Likewise, while “Are you a bully?” might not be asked so bluntly, the LAPD asks applicants, “Have you physically harmed a significant other during a domestic dispute?”
Coffey’s lawyer continues:
The SF Weekly article attributes to Mr. Coffey controversial views about the changing national face of Holland and France, when in fact he told Mr. Smith that this was based on a “60 Minutes” story he had watched and that, in context, the comments were made on your blog about your possible perceptions….
The SF Weekly article quotes two posts that Mr. Coffey made to the AntiPolygraph.org message board under the moniker, TheNoLieGuy4U. The first quotation is from a post Coffey addressed to Maschke on 17 March 2005. Coffey wrote: “I doubt even without the polygraph that you could now meet security criteria to serve in any capacity given your choice to ‘work’ in socialist Holland, which like France is losing it’s idenity [sic] to Islamic Immigration there.”
The second quotation in the SF Weekly article is from a post Coffey made on 28 May 2005. Coffey wrote, among other things, “George should stay in Holland or some other Socialist nation. He is apparently more comfortable in a nation like that, or France, which has lost its/their respective identities to massive Arab/Islamic immigration.”
Nowhere in either post did Coffey make any reference to any 60 Minutes story. And while Mr. Coffey may now profess that he was commenting on George Maschke’s “possible perceptions,” others might reasonably conclude that Coffey’s posts provide more insight into his own perceptions. Attorney Carleton L. Briggs continues:
…The SF Weekly article labels Mr. Coffey as a “peculiar choice” by the SFPD, when in fact by all measurable criteria he is a highly qualified professional with twenty-three years of experience. The SF Weekly article questions Mr. Coffey’s contract with the SFPD, saying the issue should be raised because Mr. Coffey’s alleged bias and prejudice may make the polygraph tests he administers unreliable. You are quoted therein as saying, “He’s got a lot of biases coming to the table. To have someone with that mentality screening police applicants is inappropriate.” Your blog also questions Mr. Coffey’s fitness to screen police applicants.
Indeed. The bigotry in Patrick Coffey’s posts to the AntiPolygraph.org message board speaks for itself. It calls to mind the prejudice of those who in the early 20th century lamented that Germany had “lost its identity” to “massive Jewish immigration.” Briggs continues:
The SF Weekly article falsely states that Mr. Coffey paid $10,000 to settle a claim that he had performed a voice-stress analysis on a subject without permission. Your article does, as well. In fact, Mr. Coffey has never performed any such voice-stress analysis, and he never paid any such settlement.
The SF Weekly article states that “according to court records,” Coffey ended up “paying a $10,000 settlement” to Jesus Guerrero, who in a 2003 lawsuit (1.1 mb PDF) alleged that “Mr. Coffey told Mr. Guerrero that he was submitting him to a lie detector (i.e., voice stress analyzer) test, which testing was performed without Mr. Guerrero’s permission.” AntiPolygraph.org has obtained a copy of a court order (90kb PDF) implementing a settlement agreement between Guerrero, Coffey, and the latter’s erstwhile employer, Triad Consultants. According to the order, Coffey and Triad Consultants were to pay Guerrero $10,000.
It’s certainly possible, as Mr. Briggs avers, that Mr. Coffey “never paid any such settlement.” But on 15 April 2005, Coffey and Triad Consultants were ordered to pay it by California Superior Court Judge Ronald Evans Quidachay. Coffey’s attorney continues:
Finally, the SF Weekly article suggests that Mr. Coffey isn’t bigoted against Arabs and Muslims who happen to be fee-paying representatives of regimes which condone torture, but that he may be against ordinary Arabs and Muslims with their minds set on a career with the San Francisco Police Department. As a matter of fact, Mr. Coffey has never failed an SFPD applicant of Arab extraction or of the Muslim faith. Devout Muslims actually do quite well in such tests, as they tend to have a conservative lifestyle which does not conflict with being in law enforcement.
Again, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry inherent in Coffey’s posts to the AntiPolygraph.org message board speaks for itself.
Coffey’s lawyer goes on to cite examples of defamation case law before making the following allegation and demand:
Your statements, repetitions and implications were materially false and damaging to Mr. Coffey, as they indicated that he is a bigot and that his alleged prejudice against Arab immigrants makes him unsuitable for his profession as a polygraph consultant to the San Francisco Police Department. As a result, Mr. Coffey has been receiving death threats, seven so far.
Without conceding that any demand for retraction is required, I hereby demand that, within ten days of the date hereof, you publish a full and complete retraction.
Please have your counsel contact me if he or she wishes to discuss the terms of the retraction.
AntiPolygraph.org condemns any threats of violence against Mr. Coffey. But AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke has made no materially false statements regarding him. There will be no retraction.
It should be noted here that in addition to his expressed views about European countries “losing their identity” to Arabs and Muslims, Coffey has made numerous intemperate remarks about Maschke–an honorably discharged US Army veteran–threatening him in 2008, for example, “You are no patriot, you piss me off, and I and others have the resources to deal with you if and when it ever becomes necessary. Stay in Holland you traiterous [sic] bastard.”