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Red Oak man wins Facebook free speech lawsuit

Jon Goldsmith of Red Oak was charge with simple misdemeanor harassment last summer after he wrote an angry post on his Facebook page after witnessing actions by an Adam's County Sheriff's deputy at a local festival that disturbed and upset him. After the ACLU filed a lawsuit claiming the department violated Goldsmith's free speech rights, the department dropped the charges and has since been ordered to pay Goldsmith $10,000 in damages.
Jon Goldsmith of Red Oak was charge with simple misdemeanor harassment last summer after he wrote an angry post on his Facebook page after witnessing actions by an Adam's County Sheriff's deputy at a local festival that disturbed and upset him. After the ACLU filed a lawsuit claiming the department violated Goldsmith's free speech rights, the department dropped the charges and has since been ordered to pay Goldsmith $10,000 in damages.

RED OAK — The Adams County Sheriff’s office has agreed to pay Jon Goldsmith of Red Oak $10,000 in damages after charging him for harassment when he posted a criticism of a sheriff’s deputy on his own Facebook page.

Goldsmith was required to hire a defense lawyer to defend himself against the charges and even had to seek medical treatment for high blood pressure related to the distress he experienced as a result of the charges.

The court also issued a permanent injunction that orders the Adams County Sheriff’s Office to stop criminally charging people who criticize its law enforcement officers. (The lawsuit details two other incidents of deputies arresting people for exercising free speech.) This court order was agreed to by the sheriff’s office as part of the settlement agreement.

Also as part of the agreement, the sheriff’s office must provide its officers training approved by the ACLU on free speech rights and must adopt a social media policy, also to be approved by the ACLU. Finally, it has agreed to pay the ACLU’s attorney fees.

Last summer, Jon was charged with simple misdemeanor harassment when he wrote an angry post on his Facebook page after witnessing actions by an Adam’s County Sheriff’s deputy at a local festival that disturbed and upset him. 

“As the Court’s injunction today confirms, 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. There is no exception because someone expresses anger in inartful ways, causes offense, or uses curse words,” said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

You can view the complaint here: https://www.aclu-ia.org/sites/default/files/stamped_goldsmith_complaint.pdf

You can view the the stipulated injunction here: https://www.aclu-ia.org/sites/default/files/goldsmith_injunction.pdf

Jon said he’s glad that a settlement has been reached.

“I’m especially glad the department will get free speech training,” Goldsmith said. “I hope it stops them from doing this to other people. It’s ridiculous that I had to get a lawyer to defend my right to free speech. 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.” 

The ACLU of Iowa’s cooperating attorney in the case is Glen Downey, of The Law Offices of Glen S. Downey, LLC, in Des Moines. Downey has worked with the ACLU of Iowa on a host of important free speech cases.

“Jon’s case one of those ‘brushfire cases’ because like a brushfire, they pop up again and again and need constant addressing, and if they are left unchecked they’d have a devastating effect. Such violations unfortunately routinely happen. If these unconstitutional violations are left unchecked, the would profoundly affect the ability of all citizens to believe in the fairness and decency of their own democracy,” Downey said.

In July 2018, Jon wrote an angry post on his Facebook page that shared a mugshot of someone he knew, which had been posted on the Adams County Sheriff’s Office official Facebook page. (The Adams County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page consists primarily of mugshots of local people in the community it arrests.)

Jon had attended a festival in Corning, the county seat of Adams County, which is next to Montgomery County, where Jon lives. Jon observed Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy Cory Dorsey stopping a motorist for a brake light and conducting a drug dog search of the man’s car. No drugs were found, and Jon felt the man was mistreated. Later at the festival, Jon observed Dorsey “body slam” someone else, who he knew, for no reason Jon could observe. Later, when Jon saw a mugshot of the body-slammed man on the Adams County Sheriff’s Facebook page, he felt compelled to speak up against what he viewed as improper and abusive police conduct. Jon’s post criticizing the actions of Deputy Dorsey expressed anger and employed curse words. The post didn’t threaten or advocate any violent or illegal activity.

Shortly thereafter, the Adams County Sheriff’s office charged Jon with third-degree harassment, which carries with it imprisonment of up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $625.

The Adams County Sheriff’s Office charged that Jon had posted something “threatening” because he called Dorsey “a [expletive] pile of [expletive]” and a “[expletive] sum [expletive]” and because of his comment that “when you get [expletive] canned I’ll hire you to walk my dog and pick up his [expletive].”

In addition, Jon’s post had criticized Deputy Dorsey for using excessive force in body slamming a festival attendant, and in engaging in an unconstitutional stop and search using a drug dog.

Jon ended up having to hire a lawyer to defend himself against the charges. His lawyer contacted the ACLU of Iowa, which assisted in getting the criminal charges dropped. He also experienced serious distress from the charges, requiring medical treatment by his doctor for high blood pressure.