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.