Man arrested for criticizing Iowa deputy’s ‘body slam’ on Facebook, lawsuit says

An Iowa man faced up to a month in jail and a $625 fine after he was arrested for writing an angry, profane Facebook post criticizing a local deputy’s policing tactics.

That third-degree harassment charge was later dropped, the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said. But the man who was arrested, 50-year-old Jon Goldsmith of Red Oak, is now suing the Adams County Sheriff’s Office for violating his rights by charging him in the first place, according to the ACLU, which represents him alongside Des Moines lawyer Glen Downey.

“It’s important to bring this lawsuit because the Adams County Sheriff’s Office should be upholding the laws, not violating them,” Goldsmith said in a video released by the civil liberties nonprofit. “It’s a matter of free speech to be able to criticize your government, and that includes the Sheriff’s Office and that includes Facebook.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Southern District of Iowa on Tuesday, accusing the Sheriff’s Office — and, in particular, Deputy Cory Dorsey and his superior Sgt. Paul Hogan — of violating Goldsmith’s First Amendment speech rights and Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Authorities are also accused of violating Goldsmith’s rights under Iowa’s Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure, while the Fourteenth guarantees due process and equal protection under the law.

Goldsmith’s arrest came shortly after he wrote a Facebook post complaining about Dorsey’s actions at an outdoor festival in Corning, Iowa, in July 2018, according to the lawsuit. At the festival, Goldsmith said he first saw Dorsey stop a driver for a broken brake light and do a drug search, then saw Dorsey “body slam” another person, whose mug shot later appeared on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

Goldsmith “felt compelled to speak up against what he viewed as improper and abusive police conduct,” the ACLU said, acknowledging that Goldsmith’s post “expressed anger and employed curse words” though it “didn’t threaten or advocate any violent or illegal activity.”

Goldsmith called Dorsey a “f------ pile of s---” in the post, and wrote that once the deputy gets “s--- canned” he’ll hire him to walk his dog, a screen grab of the post included in the lawsuit shows.

The lawsuit asks that the court find that local authorities violated Goldsmith’s rights and order Adams County deputies “to stop criminally charging people who speak out against law enforcement.” Goldsmith also asks that the court require free speech training for county law enforcement officers.

“The actions taken against Mr. Goldsmith by Adams County are a textbook case of retaliating against someone for exercising their First Amendment rights,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said in a statement. “Police are not allowed to try to put people in jail because they annoy the police or say things the police disagree with—on social media or otherwise.”

The lawsuit also seeks damages for Goldsmith.

“People who speak out shouldn’t be charged with harassment and have to pay lawyers to defend them just because they said something that the Sheriff’s Office took offense at,” Goldsmith said. “I’m doing this because I’m afraid that if someone doesn’t stop them, they’ll continue to do this, wrongly, to a lot of people.”

An Adams County dispatcher told McClatchy by phone that the sheriff was out of the office on Tuesday and would not be available for comment until Wednesday.

Sheriff Alan Johannes declined to comment on the incident, according to the Associated Press.

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