It’s not just our Second Amendment rights that are being threatened in the name of protecting the public from the coronavirus. Our First Amendment rights are coming under attack as well, and one Wisconsin family is fighting back against the unconstitutional overreach of their local authorities.
On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we get into the details of a new lawsuit filed with the assistance of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty against Marquette County, Wisconsin Sheriff Joseph Konrath and a deputy over their demand that a teenager delete an Instagram post about the coronavirus or face arrest.
Rick and Angela Cohoon’s teen daughter Amyiah developed a severe respiratory illness in March after a spring break trip to Florida. After one visit to a local hospital, her symptoms worsened and she ended up at a hospital in Madison. Amyiah tested negative for COVID-19 in Madison, but doctors told her that she likely had the virus but had missed the testing window. Amyiah posted updates to Instagram about this experience, including a post after she returned from the hospital that she had “beaten the coronavirus.”
Then, on March 27, a Marquette County Patrol Sergeant was dispatched to the Cohoon’s home to demand the Instagram posts be removed or face arrest for disorderly conduct. The Instagram posts were removed after the threat from law enforcement.
According to the lawsuit, Amyiah’s local school superintendent somehow stumbled across her Instagram post and alerted the county sheriff, demanding that he send a deputy over to her home to tell her to delete what she had written. Amazingly, rather than tell the superintendent to go pound sand, the sheriff did dispatch a deputy, and once there, he made it clear that the sheriff meant business.
During the evening on March 27, Defendant Patrol Sergeant Cameron Klump from the Marquette County Sheriff’s office came to the Cohoons’ home. Amyiah answered the door, and Sergeant Klump said he needed to speak with her father.
After Mr. Cohoon came outside, Sergeant Klump explained that the school “superintendent” had complained to Defendant Sheriff Joseph Konrath about one of Amyiah’s Instagram posts. Sergeant Klump showed Mr. Cohoon a screenshot of Amyiah’s third Instagram post.
Sergeant Klump stated that he had direct orders from Sheriff Konrath to demand that Amyiah delete this post, and, if she did not, to cite Amyiah and/or her parents for disorderly conduct and to “start taking people to jail.”
Klump stated that the sheriff wanted the post removed because there were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Marquette County at the time. Too bad for the sheriff that Amyiah Cohoon has the freedom of speech, even to say that she was recovering from the coronavirus without an official positive test result. The sheriff may have been intending to quell any panic over word of a coronavirus case, but instead he generated a lot of opposition and violated Cohoon’s constitutional rights in the process.
The sheriff isn’t backing down , however, and has said that the Instagram post was the equivalent of shouting “fire!” in a crowded movie theater.
No one was threatened with arrest, and an “aggressive defense” is planned, said Samuel Hall, attorney for the sheriff and the Marquette County Sheriff’s Department.
Hall said the girl’s messages “caused distress and panic within the school system and law enforcement acted at the request of school health officials in a good faith effort to avoid unfounded panic.”
Cohoon’s attorneys point out that no one from the school district contacted their family to ask about Amyiah’s illness, or what she’d been told by doctors. Instead, they went straight to the police, but not before accusing the student of falsely claiming to have the coronavirus for attention.
Administrator Meicher’s update stated that, “It was brought to my attention today that there was a rumor floating out there that one of our students contracted Covid-19 while on the band trip to Florida two weeks ago. Let me assure you there is NO truth to this. This was a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed. This rumor had caught the attention of our Public Health Department and she was involved in putting a stop to this nonsense. In times like this, the last thing we need out there is misinformation. I asked her to prepare a short statement for the purpose of this update. I’ve pasted it below.”
Although this statement does not name Amyiah or the Cohoons, most of Amyiah’s teachers and classmates would have been aware that it was about her, given that many of them saw Amyiah’s Instagram posts.
The suit is asking for “nominal damages,” which indicates that the Cohoons aren’t trying to get rich off of the abuse of their constitutional rights. Frankly, I wish they would have asked for some serious coin, if for no other reason than to send a message to other elected officials and unelected bureaucrats that even in a state of emergency, our constitutional rights remain.