On Tuesday, the ACLU of Iowa filed a federal lawsuit against Adams County in southwest Iowa, on behalf of Jon Goldsmith. Goldsmith was arrested for calling a deputy sheriff a “fucking pile of shit” and “STUPID sum bitch” in a July 2018 Facebook post. He was charged with third-degree harassment, which could have resulted in him being jailed for 30 days and fined $625.
The charges were dismissed by a judge in October, after Goldsmith’s attorney petitioned the court to do so, citing the free speech guarantees in both the U.S. and Iowa constitutions. The lawsuit also alleges the county violated Goldsmith’s First Amendment rights.
“There is strong protection under the First Amendment to criticize police, or other government officials, and to do that — even in ways that are annoying, offensive, vulgar, use curse words — all of that is protected by the First Amendment,” Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for ACLU of Iowa, said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in Des Moines. “The exceptions that do exist are for things like true threats, actual threats of violence.”
No such threat was present in Goldsmith’s Facebook post, which regarded a traffic stop he witnessed Deputy Sheriff Cory Dorsey conducting in the Adams County town of Corning. In his post, Goldsmith alleged Dorsey manufactured a reason to search a friend’s car using a drug-sniffing dog, and also assaulted a bystander who criticized the deputy’s actions.
Ya when they run the drug dog round said car/truck and they make a fake claim that 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 don’t have any balls to take shit talk but they get BUTTHURT YES YOU DORSEY you fucking pile of shit hope this guy hires George and sues the county and you will be 1st to go Dumbass Dorsey WHY you run the dog for so called fake claim you call a cargo light a break light YOU STUPID sum bitch so why run the dog for a traffic stop of light out ? THAT IS FUCKING BULLSHIT what reason? profiling? when you get shit canned i ll hire ya to walk my dog and PICK up his shit [all spelling and punctuation as in the original]
“This post is so clearly core political speech, criticizing law enforcement,” Bettis Austen said.
According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Adams County law enforcement have a pattern of arresting people who insult officers.
On July 27, 2018, Adams County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ruse arrested an individual for disorderly conduct when that individual began cursing at Ruse and another individual.
On March 15, 2019, Adams County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested another individual for abusive epitaphs and threatening gestures for saying “fuck you” and flipping “the bird.”
“Government officials don’t get to take offense by somebody’s words alone. They have to take that criticism,” Des Moines attorney Glen Downey, who is serving as co-counsel in Goldsmith’s case, said at the press conference. “That’s a long-established principle, this isn’t anything new. This is something we keep having to remind them of, because they keep forgetting.”
Bettis Austin explained that the Iowa Supreme Court has already decided that such speech is protected, citing the court’s 1989 decision in State v. Fratzke.
In that case, a motorist upset over a speeding ticket sent an insulting letter to the state trooper who wrote the ticket, calling the officer a “liar” who “just enjoys stealing people’s money so he can show everyone what a red-necked mother-fucker he is.” The motorist added he hoped the officer would “have an early and particularly painful death hopefully at the side of the road somewhere he’s robbing someone else.”
In its decision, the state’s highest court said, “[o]ur Constitution does not permit government officials to put their critics, no matter how annoying, in jail.”
The ACLU’s lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgement that Goldsmith’s constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested, as well as an order requiring the members of the Adams County Sheriff Office to undergo training about First Amendment freedoms. The lawsuit also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for Goldsmith’s arrest. Deputy Dorsey and his supervisor, Sgt. Paul Adams, are named in the lawsuit, along with the county.
“We also hope that other law enforcement across the state that hear about this lawsuit are reminded about their obligations to protect the free speech rights of the communities that they serve,” Bettis Austen said.