LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — A man who Lakeland police call a good Samaritan for trying to help a lost child is learning that the power of social media can be devastating.
The good Samaritan, Utpal Patal, claims he’s suffered not only a physical beating for his good deed, he’s also received one on social media.
WFLA has learned the posts could actually land people in big trouble.
The child’s father says one minute his two-year-old daughter was sitting on a bench in the dugout at a Lakeland park, and minutes later, she was in the arms of a stranger.
“I sat down and I said, to her, where’s your daddy? where’s your daddy? This and that, where’s your mom? Or anybody with you here? She didn’t answer but she’s constantly pointing her finger at the playground, so, I tried to take her there,” Patel said.
When the girl’s parents saw a strange man carrying their daughter towards, they thought, the parking lot, they ran after him.
“We took off running, grabbed my kid from him, and, then, then, um, I hit him, I’m not going to lie, I hit him,” the girl’s mother said to a 911 operator.
The little girl’s parents and others began beating Patel.
When Lakeland police got everything sorted out, they determined the good Samaritan was, in fact, doing a good deed.
But this was not the end. Patel was then vilified on social media, labeled as a kidnapper and a child molester.
Lakeland police sent out a warning to posters about sharing information that is false.
“Everybody on Facebook, they were blaming me. You know, that I’m a child molester, I’m a kidnapper, I’m going to kill you,” Patel said.
He tells News Channel 8 he had to take his family out of town out of fear for their safety.
“If you publish a statement that is false you’re facing civil liability of defamation,” Attorney Rusty Franklin told WFLA.
Franklin says posting false information about someone can land you in big trouble.
“They could be sued, absolutely,” Franklin said.
Franklin says this is a good warning to think before you post.
“With Facebook and hitting that send button, it’s difficult to un-send it,” he said.
A click that could change someone’s life forever.
“My whole life is tragic now. Everybody is looking at me funny and my respect is endangered now because nobody will trust me. My life is tarnished,” Patel said.
Patel said, in the end, he just wants an apology and his life back.
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