Iowa sheriff’s department settles lawsuit filed by man arrested for rude Facebook post

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Jon Goldsmith — courtesy of the ACLU of Iowa

A southwest Iowa county sheriff’s department has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who was arrested in July 2018 because he called a deputy a “fucking pile of shit” and a “STUPID sum bitch” on Facebook.

The Adams County Sheriff’s Department will pay Jon Goldsmith $10,000 as part of a settlement that includes a permanent injunction issued on Monday by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa that prohibits the department from arresting people for simply criticizing deputies, even if they do so rudely.

Goldsmith was arrested and charged with third-degree harassment after posting on his personal Facebook page a description of a traffic stop by Deputy Cory Dorsey in the Adams County town of Corning. Goldsmith wrote that Dorsey had manufactured a reason to stop the car, and had assaulted a “bystander that was giving [deputies] 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.”

The third-degree harassment charge could have resulted in Goldsmith 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. In May, the ACLU of Iowa filed the federal lawsuit on Goldsmith’s behalf that was settled on Monday. That lawsuit contended the sheriff’s office had violated Goldsmith’s First Amendment rights by arresting him for being rude on Facebook.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU also cited other incidents in which the Adams County Sheriff’s Office arrested people who insulted officers. In its response to the lawsuit, the sheriff’s office said it did “not admit to every allegation in the Plaintiff’s complaint,” but stipulated all the major facts in the ACLU’s filing were correct.

The sheriff’s office agreed to the permanent injunction rather than contest the issue in federal court.

“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,” the ACLU of Iowa said in a press release. The sheriff’s office will also pay the legal costs the ACLU incurred in bringing the lawsuit, as part of the settlement.

“I’m especially glad the department will get free speech training,” Goldsmith said in a written statement. “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.”

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the state constitution protected the right of a person to be rude to law enforcement officers. 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.”

In its decision, the Iowa Supreme Court said, “Our Constitution does not permit government officials to put their critics, no matter how annoying, in jail.”

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