Spiritual-music band sues Durango Herald

Monday, March 12, 2012 2:48 PM

Members of a spiritual band are suing The Durango Herald, accusing its Arts and Entertainment Editor Ted Holteen of sending an allegedly threatening email to the group’s booking agent prior to a show it played last July in Durango.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 22 in U.S. District Court in Arizona, seeks damages in excess of $1.3 million. The plaintiffs accuse Holteen of making threats, inflicting emotional distress and targeting band members because of their religious beliefs.

The four plaintiffs are members of a spiritually based community supported by Global Community Communications Alliance, a church based in Tubac, Ariz., according to the lawsuit. The band performs songs with spiritual lyrics conveying the community’s message.

Herald Managing Editor Don Lindley said the Herald will defend the lawsuit.

“We have referred this matter to our attorneys, and we expect them to defend it,” he said.

Holteen declined to comment for this story.

According to the lawsuit, Holteen sent an email to the band’s booking agent from his Herald email account July 8. In the email, Holteen was critical of the band’s musical talents, mocked its use of spiritual names and expressed hope that band members suffer bodily harm or death.

“If there was a hell I’d wish you to burn there for eternity, but since no such place exists, I can only hope that you suffer horribly painful deaths,” he wrote.

The email was sent in reply to an email from the band’s booking agent sent to Holteen offering to help arrange an interview with band members if Holteen wanted to write a story.

The email was sent June 9, and Holteen replied on July 8 – the day the band was scheduled to play at the Fort Lewis College Concert Hall in Durango.

The booking agent was “very shaken up,” the lawsuit says, and forwarded the email to the band members. The band members found the email to be painful, traumatic and distressing, the lawsuit says.

A trumpet player showed the email to the spiritual leader’s bodyguard, “who viewed the message as a serious threat of violence,” the lawsuit says.

The spiritual leader notified the Durango Police Department which referred the matter to the Fort Lewis College Campus Police. An officer viewed the email and assured there would be heightened security for the concert, the lawsuit says.

A band member tried to obtain a restraining order against Holteen prior to the show, but no judge was immediately available to issue an order, the lawsuit says.

The band performed its show July 8 in Durango.

But the spiritual leader canceled the band’s previously booked shows in Denver, Santa Fe and Phoenix. The tour was canceled based on concern for the safety of the band and the spiritual leader’s family, the lawsuit says.

Each of the four plaintiffs is seeking in excess of $75,000 in compensatory damages. In punitive damages, they collectively are seeking $1 million.