Originally published December 8 2014
Man arrested for Facebook insults sues Wisconsin police for violating First Amendment
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) A Wisconsin man who has filed suit in federal court has claimed that Village of Arena police introduced irrelevant racial undertones in an investigation of him, resulting in an unfair arrest.
As reported by Courthouse News, the recently filed complaint names the village as well as police officer Nicholas Stroik, and involves community reactions to the July 19, 2012, arrests of "several African-Americans suspected of burglary."
The complaint notes that police had "canvassed Arena neighborhoods... [and] the suspects were arrested later that night after a local resident apprehended them at gunpoint."
The complainant, Thomas Smith, who was residing in Arena at the time, alleges that Stroik got the ball rolling with a July 20 post to the department's Facebook page, in which he thanked the community for their assistance in the investigation.
Smith and a number of other residents posted replies to the initial post by Stroik. "Several Facebook users later posted comments on the Facebook post," the complaint states. "While some comments praised the work of the Village of Arena police, others were highly critical."
Yeah, I did it
Included in those were comments posted by Smith, who says he made his remarks after at least two other posters left comments accusing the Arena police department of racism.
One poster has since "identified defendant Stroik as the police officer who told her that the African-American suspects would stand out because they did not belong in Arena," according to the complaint.
Smith allegedly made two responses [WARNING: Graphic language]: "F*ck the f*cking cops they ant sh*t but f*cking racist basturds an f*ucking all of y'all who is racist," and, "F*ck them n*gers b*tchs wat you got on us not a dam thing so f*ck off d*cks." [The spelling has not been altered. Asterisks added.]
Smith also said in his complaint that Stroik deleted his comments July 22, along with other comments that were negative.
"Defendant Stroik did not delete the few Facebook comments praising the police for its handling of the situation," the complaint says.
Next, Smith alleges, he received a phone call from the Arena P.D., "asking him if he had posted the Facebook comments" that were "attributed to him."
"Smith told the police 'I put it on there, I don't regret it and I mean it,'" the complaint states.
Conviction is vacated
Then, the complaint alleged, Smith was arrested that night and summarily charged with disorderly conduct, unlawful use of a computerized communication system and unlawful telephone use. Smith said that, as conditions of his bail, he was forbidden from using a computer or a phone, except to look for employment, and was required to give police the passwords to his computer.
Last year, a jury found Smith guilty of unlawful use of a computerized system and disorderly conduct, Courthouse News reported. He was sentenced to a year of probation, 25 hours of community service and "other penalties," the complaint says.
However, the conviction was vacated by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in July, "noting that there was no federal or state case law supporting the state's contention that the First Amendment would allow the criminalization of Smith's criticisms of the Village and its officers," the complaint said.
As a result of the reversal, Smith sued and is seeking punitive damages for what he says was a retaliatory arrest, as well as additional violations of his federal civil rights.
The complaint also alleges that, by deleting the negative comments from his post, Stroik demonstratedthat he was not properly trained in his role as administrator of his department's Facebook page.
"Whether the Department's Facebook page was a traditional public forum, a designated forum, or a nonpublic forum, such viewpoint discrimination violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments," the complaint said.
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