A sheriff’s office in Adams County, Iowa, is being sued for filing a charge against a critic of one of its deputies.
It was because the critic, Jon Goldsmith, published “an obscenity-laden Facebook post criticizing the way Deputy Cory Dorsey treated a couple of Goldsmith’s friends,” according to a report from RadioIowa.
But the ACLU of Iowa contends the First Amendment protects even offensive speech – as long as it doesn’t move into those few areas of unprotected speech, a “true threat” or the like.
The lawsuit was filed after the sheriff’s office filed a misdemeanor harassment count against Goldsmith, of Red Oak.
The station reported, “ACLU legal director Rita Bettis-Austen says Goldsmith had the right to make the post. ‘This is really a classic free speech case and we are very happy to bring it. We hope that we are able to protect our clients first amendment rights in this case,’ Bettis-Austen says.”
The ACLU official said there is “strong protection” under the Constitution’s First Amendment for statements that “criticize police or other government officials, and to do that even in ways that are annoying, offensive, vulgar, use curse words – all of those are protected by the First Amendment.”
State Supreme Court precedent, the official explained, has held that “police officers don’t have a right to put people in jail for annoying them.”
The misdemeanor count, third-degree harassment, against Goldsmith eventually was dismissed, reports Courthouse News.
But the lawsuit alleges the actions violated Goldsmith’s rights under not just the First Amendment, but also the Fourth and 14th.
The charge “caused him distress, including a spike in blood pressure that required medical treatment,” the report explained.
CN reported, “Goldsmith became angry when he witnessed Dorsey make a traffic stop involving an acquaintance of Goldsmith’s during a community festival. Dorsey stopped a truck for an alleged brake light violation, which led to the use of a K9 drug dog and a search of the truck. The search turned up nothing illegal and the vehicle occupants were allowed to leave. According to Goldsmith, however, Dorsey then crossed the street and ‘bodyslammed’ another bystander.”
Goldsmith’s response was the posting, which described Dorsey in negative terms, and said “He hoped the county gets sued and the deputy gets fired.”
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, an injunction and more training for the sheriff’s officers.