Sheriff's Deputy Sued After Arresting Man For Criticizing Him On Facebook

from the serve,-protect,-bruise-easily... dept

A good way to get yourself sued if you’re a law enforcement officer is to treat a heated Facebook post like it’s an actual crime. Law enforcement officers remain the most delicate of snowflakes, unable to let a citizens blow off verbal steam without effecting arrests for contempt of cop. This case involves digital contempt, but it was treated as though the plaintiff was up right in the deputy’s face and screaming.

Plaintiff Jon Goldsmith was attending an outdoor festival in Corning, Iowa when he saw deputies pull over Ed Avila for a supposedly faulty brake light. This turned out to be pretextual stop, as stops for minor traffic violations often are. This is from Goldsmith’s lawsuit [PDF], filed with the assistance of the ACLU of Iowa. (I will preserve the misspelling of brake light which, unfortunately, is found throughout the lawsuit.)

After informing Avila of the reason for the stop and asking for everyone’s identification, Dorsey informed Avila he would be having his partner, Deputy Evan Ruse, write a warning ticket to fix the break light.

Dorsey then told Avila that he would be running his K9 or “drug dog” around Avila’s vehicle.

Goldsmith watched as Dorsey tapped the bed of Avila’s pick-up right before his K9 jumped into the bed.

Dorsey informed Avila that the K9 hit on the truck.

At this point, Dorsey ordered everyone out of the vehicle and proceeded to pat everyone down and search the individuals.

Goldsmith then observed Dorsey make Avila and his passengers stand on the side of the road while Dorsey searched the vehicle.

Dorsey discovered no contraband or anything else of note in Avila’s vehicle but during the search, Dorsey kept uttering that he was getting a whiff of something.

At that point, Dorsey and Ruse gave Avila a ticket for the break light and told him that he was free to go.

As they began to walk towards the street festival, Goldsmith observed Dorsey and Ruse walk across the street and for reasons unknown and questionable to Goldsmith, Dorsey then body slammed a gentleman named Mike Arthur to the ground.

The fishing expedition that occurred at the Avila traffic stop — along with the perceived abuse of another witness of the stop — angered Goldsmith. As most of do, he turned to social media to express his feelings. He commented on the Adams County Sheriff’s Office’s post of Mike Arthur’s mugshot with this:

Ya when they run the drug dog round said car/truck and they make a fake claim the dog hit yes he hit after you tap where you want him to jump on then call it a hit and NOTHING shows up and they look like total fucking lying POS they/he gets pissed walks across main street and body slams THIS bystander that was giving them a hard time guess they dont have any balls to take shit talk they get BUTTHURT YES YOU DORSEY you fucking pile of shit hope this guy hires George and sues the county and you will be the 1st to go Dumbass Dorsey WHY you run the dog getting pulled over for so called fake claim you call a cargo light a brake light you STUPID sum bitch so why run the dog for a traffic stop of light out? THAT IS FUCKING BULLSHIT what reason? when you get shit canned i ll hire ya to walk my dog and PICK up his shit

It may lack eloquence but it does drive Goldsmith’s point home effectively: the traffic stop, the drug dog, the attack on Mike Arthur… all bullshit. And every word of this Deputy Dorsey-aimed rant is protected speech. And it’s the best kind of protected speech: criticism of the government as personified by the Adams County officer.

Neither Deputy Dorsey nor Sergeant Paul Hogan saw it that way. Unaware of the contours of the First Amendment — or perhaps just not caring — they filed a criminal complaint against Goldsmith for third-degree harassment.

Sergeant Hogan’s sworn statement in defense of this bullshit charge is inadvertently hilarious, as all-caps, verbatim recountings of personal slights often are:

ON 7-29-18 AT APPROXIMATELY 0330 JON GOLDSMITH MADE A THREATENING POST ON FACEBOOK IN WHICH HE SINGLED OUT CORY DORSEY MULTIPLE TIMES. IN THE FACEBOOK POST GOLDSMITH REFERRED TO DORSEY AS A “FUCKING PILE OF SHIT.” GOLDSMITH ALSO REFERED TO DORSEY AS A “STUPID SUM BITCH.” GOLDSMITH ENDED THE FACEBOOK POST WITH “WHEN YOU GET SHIT CANNED I’LL HIRE YOU TO WALK MY DOG AND PICK UP HIS SHIT.”

Unfortunately for these officers, the court and the plaintiff know the law better than they do. As Goldsmith’s lawsuit points out, there’s a case directly on point in that state’s top court saying this sort of criticism is protected by the First Amendment.

On September 21, 2018, Attorney Mailander filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges against Goldsmith as violative of the First Amendment.

Among other things, Mailander’s Motion cited to the case State v. Fratzke, 446 N.W.2d 781 (Iowa 1989), directly on point, in which the Iowa Supreme Court held that the state could not justify the same harassment charge Goldsmith was charged with against a motorist who wrote a letter to a highway patrolman who had stopped him for speeding, based on the letter’s statement that the officer was a “liar,” a “thief disguised as a protector,” that the arrest was “legalized highway robbery,” that the officer “just enjoys stealing people’s money so he can show everyone what a red-necked mother-fucker he is,” and expressing the letter-writer’s hope that the officer would “have an early and particularly painful death hopefully at the side of the road somewhere he’s robbing someone else.” As the Court explained, “[o]ur Constitution does not permit government officials to put their critics, no matter how annoying, in jail.”

The court agreed with Goldsmith’s motion and dismissed the charge. But some damage had already been done. After the charge was filed against him, Goldsmith emailed a screenshot of the post to his wife, deleted his post, and deactivated his Facebook account. He has steered clear of Corning, Iowa where the traffic stop he criticized took place, and saw a physician who noted Goldsmith’s anxiety and increased blood pressure.

The lawsuit also points out the Adams County Sheriff’s Office seems particularly susceptible to “mistaking” criticism for criminal acts. Deputies have arrested people for cursing at them and giving them the finger.

The lawsuit alleges false arrest and First Amendment retaliation. It seems pretty clear the deputies wanted to punish Goldsmith for lighting them up on Facebook and dug around until they found an abusable law to use against him. Unfortunately, Iowa’s harassment statute is pretty damn abusable:

Communicates with another by telephone, telegraph, writing, or via electronic communication without legitimate purpose and in a manner likely to cause the other person annoyance or harm.

So, there’s a couple of bars Goldsmith will have to clear. The first is not specific to Iowa. Courts have held for years that law enforcement officers aren’t expected to be experts in the laws they’re enforcing. Yeah, it makes very little sense, but I guess we don’t want our officers ruminating over appellate level splits on edge cases during “tense, uncertain, and rapidly-evolving” situations.

Then we have the law itself, which lends itself to the reading that people can be arrested simply for “annoying” law enforcement officers and Goldsmith’s Facebook post certainly fits the common definition of annoying.

The wild card is the court and whether it will recognize this for the retaliation it is. Deputies were briefly publicly shamed for turning a traffic stop into a roadside fishing expedition and — instead of doing nothing — they did this.

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Comments on “Sheriff's Deputy Sued After Arresting Man For Criticizing Him On Facebook”

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46 Comments
laminar flow (profile) says:

Spelling

The arrogance of the law infliction is always breathtaking, but they’re not the only offenders in the piece, at least if one is considering spelling, grammar, or usage. I particularly love the line, "the K9 hit on the truck". Really? Was the pickup truck particularly good-looking? Did the dog think the truck had money and could be its sugar daddy? Or did it simply think it could simply confiscate the truck though asset forfeiture? Was there a sexual harassment complaint filed? I think they meant "alerted".

However, don’t criticize someone for misspelling "brake" if you’re using words like "effecting". Effect is a noun. "Affecting" is likely what you wanted. Also phrases such as "there’s a couple of bars" are grating. "Bars" is a plural noun. Don’t tell me that these mistakes don’t make a difference, especially when discussing imposition of the law. Sorry, I was raised by a strict grammarian.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Spelling

I attribute the ‘break’ rather than ‘brake’ error to the ACLU of Iowa because they wrote their filing on a cell phone with auto-correct turned on. While I don’t find that terribly disturbing, I find their lack of proof reading atrocious. One wonders what other errors of omission might occur.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Spelling

I particularly love the line, "the K9 hit on the truck". Really? Was the pickup truck particularly good-looking? Did the dog think the truck had money and could be its sugar daddy? Or did it simply think it could simply confiscate the truck though asset forfeiture? Was there a sexual harassment complaint filed? I think they meant "alerted".

"Hit" appears to be a term of art referring to a positive result — as in hits and misses.

However, don’t criticize someone for misspelling "brake" if you’re using words like "effecting". Effect is a noun. "Affecting" is likely what you wanted.

You’re mistaken.

verb (used with object)
to produce as an effect; bring about; accomplish; make happen: The new machines finally effected the transition to computerized accounting last spring.

He clearly meant "effecting an arrest", not "affecting".

Sorry, I was raised by a strict grammarian.

Passive voice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Spelling

"’Effect [sic] is a noun. ‘Affecting’ is likely what you wanted."

"Effect" is also a verb, and "effecting" means to accomplish, to complete. "Affecting" is clearly the writer’s intent, since it would mean influencing with our without completion.

Don’t you just hate it when the grammar police police your grammar policing?

someoneinnorthms (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Spelling

Good lord. I’ll get out my Strunk and White and give you a reference. It looks like diagramming sentences has gone out the window in public high schools.

"Of bars" is a prepositional phrase. Thus, "bars," as the object of the preposition cannot be the subject of the sentence. "There’s a couple," is the sentence. A couple of what, one might ask. A couple "of bars." A couple is a single thing, made up of two parts–in this case, two bars.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Oh noes, please don't threaten to slap our wrists...'

So long as the thugs engaging in such behavior face absolutely zero personal punishments for doing so they have no reason to stop. I mean really, what’s a judge going to do to a cop/sheriff, tell them to stop threatening people/filing bogus charges or else they’ll tell them to stop doing that in a slightly firmer voice?

Add to that the jackasses in the US Supreme Court ruling that there’s nothing wrong with retaliatory arrests and thugs with badges have no reason not to act like petty little tyrants, punishing anyone who dares speak ill of them.

While I’d love it if the guilty parties here faced some actual punishments for their actions I fully expect that at worst their department will have to pay some sort of fine, and they will get off penalty-free while the taxpayers get screwed again. Much more likely yet another judge will grovel at the feet of those with badges and find that there was nothing wrong with anything they did.

Agammamon says:

COMES NOW Plaintiff Jon Goldsmith through undersigned counsel,

Respectfully submitted,s/Glen S. DowneyGlen S.

Goldsmith – Saul Goodman would have been a better choice than a lawyer that not only can’t use spell-check, but shouldn’t even have to.

Using ‘break’ for ‘brake’ means your lawyer doesn’t pay attention to detail. Sure, this might seem like an open-and-shut case but the details can still be the difference between a large settlement and a token one. Especially against the government where little details can be what distinguishes ‘clearly established right’ and ‘cops are going to get away with this because no one else has done it quite like this before’.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What is it going to take to make cops stop acting like they rule the world and can act like petty tyrants any time their microscopic egos get bruised

What would it take? Judges and politicians growing some spines and actually applying penalties to the police, holding them to any real standard rather than the ‘anything goes as long as you’ve got a badge’ one they operate under now.

Cops feel safe acting like thugs because they know that the odds of them facing any sort of penalty for their actions is in the ‘zero to none’ range more often than not. Take that away such that they face the dreaded personal responsibility for their actions and I suspect that a whole slew of abuses would vanish rather quickly.

Do we have to start shooting them on sight? That would be a shame. Especially for the cops.

As for this, as I’ve noted in the past no. Just no. One group of trigger-happy killers is already bad enough, we don’t need to add to the problem by having even more people murdering those around them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do we have to start shooting them on sight? That would be a shame. Especially for the cops.

Shooting cops would be a very bad idea. When cops come under attack, it’s usually the little people who end up paying the price.

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-no-charges-lapd-shooting-newspaper-delivery-women-dorner-manhunt-20160127-story.html

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Experts on law

Police and others with higher power and authority should be held to different standards than your regular citizen, the problem is that courts and lawmakers consistently hold them to lower, rather than higher, standards(when they’re being held to any standard at all anyway).

Where citizens are expected to know the laws and make reasonable decisions and inferences based upon that knowledge police are allowed to just make shit up, claim that they thought the law worked that way or said that, and courts will give them a pass under what seems to be the standard of believing that no-one is dumber than a cop, and as such it would be both unfair and unreasonable to expect them to have basic knowledge and make simple decisions based upon it.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you are a passenger in the car and the driver gets pulled over for whatever traffic infraction. YOU as a passenger do NOT have to give out your ID. You have every right to refuse. You were not driving the car. You broke no law. Just because the police ask or demand it, F them. They have no right. You do not have to give them your name or any other info unless you have broken the law and they arrest you.

As for these DOG’S. Ya, most of the time it’s a bunch of B.S. Fake hits. I would file a complaint on that fake hit and that officer. If there’s no drugs, what is that dog hitting on? Oh, you did something to create that fake hit to do an unlawful search.

Tommy says:

Re: Re:

As for the fake hit, good luck proving it. They will just come up with some other plausible reason the dog alerted the officer.

Maybe there were drugs there in the past. The dog smelled something like drugs. The vehicle owner might have taken steps to counter a dog search. Take your pick.

Until the judges, lawyers, and politicians actually hold cops liable for their actions nothing will change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

what I said above definitely also applies to passengers. the recriminations start lower however.

oh, passengers couldn’t POSSIBLY face recriminations for "refusing a lawful order" of corrupt mafia-in-blue.

surely passengers who say "no" to police would never face recriminations up to and including, getting beaten by police, having drugs planted on them, arrest (kidnap), and imprisonment (torture), and if you piss them off enough, dismemberment, death, and disposal of evidence.

passengers are untouchable don’t you see?

What a time says:

To be alive

It’s so tiring to continuously hear about the assaults on civil liberties by the police and governmental agencies, to hear defenses that would not hold up in court be taken as a gold standard, to see double standards in prosectution all the time, to see someone I think of as a hero faced with a sentence five times longer than that of a murderer. If the social contract is broken maybe it would be for the better. All of their power comes from the people, so why don’t we just say "No more will this happen". Then when new and just as legitimate groups form they are co-oped by their own enemies. Or they say "look at these traitors and criminals they do not deserve the power which is only theirs". We live in a world that could end a second after you read this, yet it doesn’t stop, it never stops. What a time to be alive.

Kirsten Michelle Lockhart says:

What exactly is threatening about the post?

Sure, he criticized the deputy, but what kind of harm is he threatening to cause? It sounds to me like he was just using his free speech to express his unhappiness with the officer’s actions.

The closest thing to a threat is him wishing for the sheriff’s office to get sued, but even if he were threatening to do that (which he isn’t) it wouldn’t be illegal because we have the right to file non-frivolous lawsuits. Threats are only illegal when the actor intends to do blatantly illegal things, like kill or maim someone.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

  • Voltaire
Jon Golsmith says:

Adams County

I was in the truck that was pulled over searched 2 times by 2 different officers neither one said a word about smelling anything the truck was a 1989 chevy was made before the law was made to have a 3rd brake light it had a cargo light turn on with toggle switch on the dash told him we didnt need 3rd brake light old truck he asks why is there a cover over it but he would not listen insisted he knew the laws all 3 of us was telling him no he dont i have the officers bodycam and after the case it WILL be posted the guy he slammed asks him why am i being arrested officer says cussing then while body slammjng this retired firefighter with 2 artificial hips he said get on the fucking ground i have it all on tape thanks to avilas lawyer sent letter stating no light required it was a pretext sham and insisted on the officers bodycam

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