According to the lawsuit obtained by Deadline, members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League are suing Couric, Epix (as Studio 3 Partners LLC), Atlas Films and the film’s director, Stephanie Soechtig, for manipulating footage that appeared in the 2016 Sundance film.
The suit states that “the film contains false footage purporting to show members of the [VCDL] sitting silently, stumped, and avoiding eye contact for nearly nine seconds after Couric asked, ‘If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?’ ”
The suit claims that the film aired altered footage: “After nearly nine seconds of silent footage – instead of the responses that the VCDL members had actually provided – the Defendants inserted footage of someone closing the cylinder of a fully-loaded revolver, driving home the point that the exchange was over. The manipulated footage falsely informed viewers that the VCDL members had been stumped and had no basis for their position on background checks.”
“The Defendants manipulated the footage in service of an agenda: they wanted to establish that there is no basis for opposing universal background checks by fooling viewers into believing that even a panel of pro-Second Amendment advocates could not provide one,” the suit continues. “The Defendants intentionally disregarded the truth of the actual exchange that had taken place and took at least six intentional steps to manufacture a fictional exchange to support their agenda.”
Filed Tuesday in Virginia federal court, the Plaintiffs – VCDL, Daniel L. Hawes, Esq. and Patricia Webb – who appear in the Sundance documentary are seeking the following in the defamation suit: compensatory damages of $12 million; punitive damages of $350,000 each; expenses, costs and attorney’s fees; “an injunction prohibiting the Defendants from disseminating, distributing or publishing any footage of the VCDL’s members, Hawes or Webb that is judicially determined to be false,” and are demanding a jury trial.
In May, Couric apologized for “misleading” editing in the documentary.
“As Executive Producer of Under the Gun, a documentary film that explores the epidemic of gun violence, I take responsibility for a decision that misrepresented an exchange I had with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL),” Couric stated in response to uproar from several pro-gun organizations.
Under the Gun explores the gun control debate across political aisles and features interviews with both parents of those who’ve lost children due to gun violence, as well as pro-gun activist groups.
The VCDL slammed Couric in May over the documentary’s editing, calling the journalist’s work on the film “deliberate deception” in a Facebook post, and released an unedited audiotape of the group’s session.
A source close to Couric tells PEOPLE that they believe the suit is a “desperate attempt for attention to divert attention from a film that was sadly too prescient.”
A spokesperson for Epix told Deadline the lawsuit is “completely without merit. … The network had no role in its creation or production and should therefore not be a party to this lawsuit.”
Stefan Friedman, a spokesperson for Soechtig, said in a statement to PEOPLE, “It’s ironic that people who so passionately defend the Second Amendment want to trample the rights guaranteed to a filmmaker under the First. Stephanie stands by UNDER THE GUN, and will not stop her work on behalf of victims of gun violence.”