Iowa man charged for critical Facebook post wins settlement
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A southwest Iowa man won his free speech legal battle on Monday with a sheriff’s department and two officers who charged him with harassment for writing a social media post that profanely criticized a deputy.
Jon Richard Goldsmith will be paid $10,000 by the Adams County Sheriff’s office as settlement of a federal lawsuit he filed in May alleging violations of his rights to free speech, retaliation and false arrest.
Court documents filed Monday indicate the sheriff’s office has agreed to a court order prohibiting it from bringing criminal charges against or threatening to criminally charge Goldsmith or any other citizen on the basis of the lawful comments, posts, or other speech protected by the First Amendment.
The department also said it will not delete messages protected by the First Amendment or block users who comment on the sheriff department’s official Facebook page.
Goldsmith, 50, said in a statement he hopes free speech training for the department will prevent a reoccurrence.
“People need to be able to speak up when an officer is doing wrong. The sheriff’s office shouldn’t be able to shut them down just for doing that,” he said.
Goldsmith criticized Deputy Cory Dorsey in a profane Facebook post in July 2018 after witnessing what he thought was harsh treatment of citizens during a festival in Corning. The sheriff’s department charged Goldsmith with third-degree harassment, a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $625.
The sheriff’s office claimed he had posted threatening remarks in his profanity-laced post.
The charge was dropped after Goldsmith hired an attorney to fight it.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa represented Goldsmith in the federal lawsuit against Adams County, Dorsey and his supervisor Sgt. Paul Hogan who signed the original complaint against Goldsmith.
ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said people have a constitutional free speech right to criticize their government.
“Police are not allowed to charge people with crimes because they annoy the police or say things the police disagree with — on social media like Facebook, or otherwise,” she said. “There is no exception because someone expresses anger in inartful ways, causes offense, or uses curse words.”
A woman answering the department’s phone Monday says Sheriff Alan Johannes was unavailable for comment. An attorney representing the department and the county did not immediately reply to a message.