Judge Forbids Facebook Users Being Sued By A Cop From Publishing The Cop's Name On Social Media

from the [insert-Big-Lebowski-quote] dept

Eugene Volokh reports an Ohio court has hit a number of defendants in a libel lawsuit with an unconstitutional order forbidding them from posting the name of the man suing them. It’s no ordinary man, though. It’s a police officer who several attendees of a Cincinnati city council meeting have both identified and claimed used a racist hand sign while interacting with them.

A veteran Cincinnati police officer sued several citizens in early July, accusing them of defamation in a closely watched case that could be the beginning of a trend of police officers going after critics in court.

Several citizens accused the officer of possibly being associated with white supremacy or of being racist after spotting a video and picture of him allegedly flashing the “ok” sign at a City Council meeting in June – a meeting held to address concerns by those in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

They posted about it on Facebook and other online forums, leading the officer to file his lawsuit.

Nothing all that unusual about this. Someone with pretty thin skin was offended that other people said mean things about him and decided to sue about it. That the plaintiff is a police officer is a little different, but not unheard of. That the police officer talked a judge into allowing him to file pseudonymously and place his affidavit under seal is a bit stranger. From there, it just gets stranger and more unconstitutional

This is from Volokh:

I’ve also learned that the judge has issued a temporary restraining order—without any participation on the defendants’ part—ordering them not to “publiciz[e], through social media or other channels, Plaintiff’s personal identifying information.” The order doesn’t define “personal identifying information,” but the only Ohio statute that does define term (the identity fraud statute) defines it to include a person’s “name.”

Thus, the bloggers are banned from mentioning the police officer at all. They aren’t just banned from libeling him; even a post conveying accurate information, or expressing an opinion, about the police officer is forbidden, if it mentions the officer’s name.

This order [PDF] only targets future posts. That’s some prior restraint right there. And while the judge may have meant no one can publish anything like the cop’s home address or personal phone number, the lack of specificity allows it to be read as banning the use of the officer’s name.

Not that it’s all that difficult to figure out who this officer is. Multiple attendees (who are now defendants in this lawsuit) posted the officer’s name online and linked to what appears to be the officer’s Facebook account. Searching through the defendants’ social media profiles brings up the posts referring to the officer by name.

The officer’s Facebook page has had all of its posts deleted. The header image has been replaced with this, which appears to be a direct response to those accusing him of flashing the “ok” sign at the city council meeting.

Officer Ryan Olthaus — who was involved in the controversial killing of Dontez O’Neal in 2012 — goes by the name “Michael Ryan” on his Facebook page. The pseudonym being used in the lawsuit against these social media users is “M.R.”

That all seems to add up to Officer Pseudonym. His lawyer seems to feel the current, possibly unconstitutional order doesn’t go far enough, though. The officer would also like to see the defendants forced to remove any previous posts about him. His attorney argues the posts are libelous because [checks filing] they were made by people who don’t like cops.

Defendants posted these statements on their social media platforms, accusing Plaintiff of being a white supremacist in a climate of severe hostility toward police officers. Further, at least one Defendant threatened to dox Plaintiff — to reveal his personal identifying information online — seemingly for sport. Other posts include, “Fuck SWAT,” “Fuck 12,” “ACAB”, “1312” and many similar statements evidencing the Defendants’ hatred and malice toward the police, including the Plaintiff.

The court hasn’t ruled that any of the posts being sued over are actually libelous. So, at this point, the officer has no legal basis to demand their removal. The officer has already been granted one broad restriction on the posting of his personal information (which includes his name) by the suit’s defendants. Now, he wants to go even further. And he wants to do it while keeping his name from being tied to his dubious litigation.

Eugene Volokh (along with the Cincinnati Enquirer) are asking the judge to unseal the documents. And hopefully the defendants will challenge the restraining order and make the court rethink (or perhaps consider thoughtfully for the first time) its blanket ban on publishing this officer’s personal information.

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Comments on “Judge Forbids Facebook Users Being Sued By A Cop From Publishing The Cop's Name On Social Media”

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39 Comments

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Annonymouse says:

Re: Take a look at the judge.

Beat me too it.
Why is it so surprising that a judge is a supremacist?
Why twist yourself into knots making weak excuses for judges just like it is for cops?
Why no background social media check on the judge?

Cops would not be getting away with crap like this without the support of judges prosecutors and lawyers in general.

It is about time to out the facilitators.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Take a look at the judge.

Sorry, gotta take exception.

1) "Judge is siding" – Judge is siding, as you put it, with the side claiming imminent harm by social media posts. He may be wrong on the constitutionality of his ruling (I like to think so), but he is erring on the side of caution. And erring conservatively, in not also demanding other posts be (however temporarily) taken down.

2) "murdering" – Let’s try that again, shall we? Reading the linked article, Olthaus was involved in the incident, but was not the person who did the killing. The article does not say he fired his gun, or hit anyone. Maybe, maybe not then.

3) "white supremacist … " – Olthaus may or may not be, but you’re projecting the plaintiff’s views onto the judge. How did you make such a vast leap?

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PaulT (profile) says:

"Officer Ryan Olthaus — who was involved in the controversial killing of Dontez O’Neal in 2012 — goes by the name "Michael Ryan" on his Facebook page."

I doubt that he did it deliberately, but for British readers that name has somewhat concerning connotations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungerford_massacre

Coffee U says:

Title confusing

On first read, I thought that a judge had forbidden users from being sued by said cop.

I’ve tried rewording it, and haven’t found anything that’s both 1) significantly more clear, and 2) has the same info. I think "Facebook Users Being Sued by Cop, Forbidden by Judge From Publishing the Cop’s Name On Future Social Media Posts." is slightly more clear, but also doesn’t scan well.

"Judge Forbids Defendants from Publishing the Name of the Cop Suing Them" is more succinct.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'One rule for me, another for thee' I see

No, a ruling like that strikes me as perfectly fair, I mean it’s not like cops ever publicly post the names of people accused of crimes or that end up dead from an interaction with a cop in an attempt to shift the narrative in their favor, it’s only fair that members of the public (be forced to) show the same restraint.

If a cop can’t handle people saying mean words about them then they are clearly unfit for the job and should quit and let someone who actually is capable of dealing with hardships take their place, because if they can’t handle the stress of words in a professional manner then they most certainly aren’t going to be able to handle the rest of the job.

As for the idea that the defendants are biased because they ‘hate cops’, hate to break it to the mythical ‘good cops’ but that’s what you get when corruption and rot is allowed to flourish and grow in a profession, eventually people stop being willing to give the benefit of the doubt in accepting the argument that it really is ‘just a few bad apples’ and start seeing the entire profession as corrupt, and you’ve only yourselves to blame for that.

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Communication and co-option

Well, the judge seems to have made a really bad decision, though we don’t really have enough information to determine his motivation. Automatically assuming that that motivation is racially nefarious might be a mistake. Or it could be spot on. Don’t assume.

I am also concerned that a symbol that has the connotation of things are OK has apparently been co-opted by some to have a different meaning (and since I don’t immerse myself in the white supremacist culture have never heard of this before). Without context, which may or may not be enlightening or even correctly interpreted, knowing that that hand gesture means its original meaning or the co-opted one, or something else again that someone just made up does not seem possible. And there is nothing to prevent anyone from co-opting that gesture to have some other new meaning (as has already been done, it seems), and the burden of proof as to which meaning was intended would be upon the accuser. Good luck with that.

I don’t know this cop and I am not defending him, nor his action, as I, nor we, actually know what he intended with the use of the OK gesture. Only he does. I am not sure how any observer could imply what his intentions were, with absolute accuracy. That he has a sketchy background might be suggestive, but that seems to be pretty circumstantial. On the other hand, the cop’s assumption that others assumed the gesture connotation was the bad one is hardly defamatory as those others are stating an opinion about the gesture use.

The entire case is fraught with inanities. The original gesture, the interpretation of the gesture, the whining and opinion expressing on social media (right or wrong), the lawsuit, and the judges order all appear to be ridiculous in the extreme. But speech is free in this country, unless you have to pay a lawyer to keep it free. I don’t see the lawsuit going anywhere, and the judge may get an uncomfortable talking to. The lawyers win, again.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Huh?

""OK" gesture is white power? "

Yes. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/ok-sign-white-power-supremacy-alt-right-4chan-trolling-hoax-a9249846.html

"That’s about as stupid as the original stars and stripes is white power."

What do you mean the "original stars and stripes". I hope you’re not referring to the Confederate flag?

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Huh?

Ah, so you misrepresented the argument. Shocking. No wonder you didn’t actually say what you were so concerned about in the first place.

Nike cancelled the release of the shoe because some prominent black sportspeople noted the relation to the rampant slavery at the time, not white power. There is a difference, although some people are fans of both.

What’s funny is that your snowflake ass is more concerned about the shoe being cancelled than you are by the fact that it was probably still being manufactured by actual slaves.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Huh?

Well, exciting isn’t necessarily the word, it’s often depressing. But, no matter how you class it, US politics has a large effect on my life despite living thousands of miles away so I like to keep tabs on what’s happening. It’s strange that so many people who actually have a voice in US politics take so little care to understand the realities of what’s going on.

I also keep tabs on the politics of the UK, EU and Spain, but at least I have some way of voting in those elections.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s especially difficult when everyone immediately cedes control of said common greeting and chooses to be complicit in the handover.

I mean, surely Hitler – I mean white supremacists – will be happy with just the Sudetenland – oops, I mean the OK sign – and won’t take the rest of Austria – (dang it again) I meant english language – right?

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