Al Jazeera has filed suit against Phenix Investigations Inc. in a legal effort to force the Greenwood-based private-investigation firm to provide documents and testimony that could clear the broadcaster in a separate defamation suit.
The case involves an investigation Phenix conducted in 2015 to discredit a documentary that accused former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and other star athletes of using performance-enhancing drugs.
The documentary, “The Dark Side: The Secret World of Sports Doping,” which Qatar-based Al Jazeera first aired in December 2015, alleged that Manning and his wife, Ashley, had received home deliveries of human growth hormone from an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic in 2011, when he was recuperating from neck injuries suffered while playing for the Colts.
The documentary also accused high-profile pro football players James Harrison, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers and baseball players Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard of using HGH, which is banned by the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
All the athletes vigorously denied the accusations, which were made by a pharmacist named Charles Sly, a former intern at the Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine in Indianapolis.
Al Jazeera, in court documents, said it has 27 hours of secretly recorded conversations with Sly in which he boasts about helping pro athletes obtain PEDs. Sly alleged that the Mannings visited the Guyer Institute to get injections and received shipments of HGH from the institute.
Manning’s lawyers launched an investigation into the documentary shortly after Al Jazeera contacted them for comment on the accusations. They hired Phenix Investigations to handle the probe.
Phenix was able to track down Sly at his Brownsburg home less than a week before the documentary aired and convince him to recant his statements about the doping on a short video. Sly said he fabricated the stories to impress Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter—a former elite British hurdler named Liam Collins—because he considered him a potential business partner.
Zimmerman and Howard sued Al Jazeera for defamation after the documentary was released, claiming the network knew the doping allegations were false but aired them, anyway.
Proving defamation against public figures is usually difficult because plaintiffs must show evidence of “actual malice,” which involves knowingly publishing material that is false or with a reckless disregard for the truth.
Al Jazeera is fighting to have the defamation lawsuit dismissed, claiming the players do not have enough evidence to support the actual-malice standard
In its suit, the broadcaster contends Sly recanted his accusations “under duress” after Phenix sent two investigators to Sly’s family home who “were so intimidating and threatening that Sly’s sister, Kaitlyn Sly, called 911” to report them.
Al Jazeera contends that the hours of undercover footage it took of Sly were far more credible than the 55-second “scripted” video he made for Phenix investigators.
The broadcaster said it was seeking “documents and testimony concerning what happened before Sly recorded his ‘hostage video.’”
Phenix, however, has refused to respond to subpoenas seeking documents and declined to make its investigators available for depositions, Al Jazeera said in court papers.
“The information sought by the subpoenas is critical to the issue of actual malice … and thus relevant to Al Jazeera’s defense,” the lawsuit says.
Investigators with the NFL and MLB conducted their own probes after the documentary was released and cleared the players of any wrongdoing.
Phenix did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case Monday afternoon.
Al Jazeera, originally a state-funded broadcaster in Qatar, has grown into a major global news organization, with 80 news bureaus around the world.