Free Speech Is Sometimes Expensive
by Ed Lyon
Jon Goldsmith of Montgomery County, Iowa, attended a summer festival last year in adjoining Adams County. He witnessed police misconduct there so outrageous he felt he had to make the public aware of it. Unfortunately for him, the police did not agree with his colorful expressions on Facebook and criminally charged him. What exactly did Goldsmith see that sparked his righteous indignation?
Adams County sheriff’s deputy Cory Dorsey stopped a car at the festival, supposedly because of a brake light problem. He escalated the encounter to the point of calling for a drug interdiction dog to search the car. No drugs were found. Later, Goldsmith witnessed Dorsey “body slam” a person Goldsmith happened to know. He observed no reason for Dorsey to assault the citizen.
The Adams County Sheriff Department (“ACSD”) has a Facebook account. In that department’s case, it would be more appropriate to call it a Shamebook account as it displays photos of everyone it arrests. It was here that Goldsmith would subsequently see the mugshot of his acquaintance that Dorsey had body-slammed for apparently no reason. This prompted his Facebook rant.
Therein Goldsmith called Dorsey “a fucking pile of shit,” a “stupid sum bitch,” and further promised Dorsey “when you get shitcanned [as a result of the behavior Goldsmith witnessed] I’ll hire you to walk my dog and pick up his shit.” The post did plainly link the rant to Dorsey’s pretextual motor vehicle stop and later uncalled-for use of force.
Dorsey’s supervisor, Sergeant Paul Hogan, saw Goldsmith’s rant shortly after it was posted.
Rather than initiate an investigation into a citizen’s de facto report of multiple instances of police misconduct, Hogan swore out a criminal complaint against Goldsmith for harassment, claiming that his Facebook rant was “threatening.”
After his arrest, Goldsmith began suffering anxiety and abnormally high blood pressure. He also had to hire an attorney. The attorney recognized the egregious First Amendment violations and sought help from the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”), which obliged.
Trial attorney Jonathan Mailander succeeded in having the criminal charge dismissed, citing an Iowa Supreme Court precedent in a similar case where that defendant’s Facebook comments about a cop made Goldsmith’s look, by comparison, like comments from Miss Manners.
The ACLU followed up with a lawsuit in federal court on First Amendment grounds. This suit culminated in not only a $10,000 settlement in Goldsmith’s favor but also in some extremely interesting permanent injunctions against the ACSD.
Because of other instances of the ACSD criminally charging citizens for negatively criticizing their officers, the court first issued a permanent injunction barring this practice.
Other injunctions require the ACSD to provide all deputies ACLU-approved training regarding social media policy and another ACLU-approved training regimen on free speech rights. Finally, the ACSD must pay all of the ACLU’s legal fees and expenses.
Sources: aclu-ia.org, reason.com