Every issue, even free speech, is a hot-button political debate these days. But nearly everyone – liberal, moderate, and conservative – has suffered from the frustrations of bureaucratic incompetence. Even worse is when a public servant takes advantage of everyday citizens. The ability to speak freely about these frustrations is as American as apple pie.
An Iowa man proved this idea still holds true after Adams County Sheriff’s deputies arrested him last year for going on a profanity-laced Facebook tirade against an officer. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced this week that the sheriff’s office agreed to settle a lawsuit in the man’s favor.
The episode began last summer, when Jon Goldsmith witnessed a traffic stop and vehicle search. According to his lawsuit, the deputies conducting the traffic stop acted unprofessionally and had little probable cause to execute a search. His lawsuit also alleged that he saw the officer tackle and arrest a man who was acting normally.
The next day, Goldsmith posted a rant directed at one of the deputies, featuring some rather, ahem, “blue” language. He referred to the officer as a “f---ing pile of sh--” and a “STUPID sum b----,” among other things that would make many people blush.
After this Facebook rant came to the attention of the sheriff’s department, deputies arrested Goldsmith for harassment, referring to his rant as a “threatening and vulgar statement.” While the charge was eventually dropped, Goldsmith’s lawsuit claimed he had to hire a criminal defense attorney for the case and needed to seek medical attention due to the stress of the incident.
In settling the lawsuit, Goldsmith will receive $10,000, the sheriff’s office will pay the ACLU’s legal fees for representing Goldsmith, and the office will need to conduct ACLU-approved free speech training for officers and adopt a social media policy.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa also issued an injunction against the sheriff’s department, barring them from arresting anyone for criticizing the department.
Goldsmith put it best: “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.”
While you personally (are you listening, mom?) would never post such a rant on Facebook, it’s important to remember that Goldsmith’s victory is for all of us. The right to criticize our government is a bedrock principle of our country, and we need heroes like him to hold it accountable.