First Amendment

Lawsuit claims sheriff threatened to arrest teen if she didn't delete COVID-19 social media posts

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The parents of a 16-year-old Wisconsin girl have filed a lawsuit claiming that the Marquette County sheriff threatened to arrest the teen and her parents if she didn’t delete social media posts that read that she had COVID-19.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Amyiah Cohoon of Oxford, Wisconsin, says Joseph Konrath and his patrol sergeant violated the teen’s First Amendment rights.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Associated Press have coverage.

The April 16 suit says Amyiah became sick after returning home March 15 from a spring break trip to Florida with her band class at Westfield Area High School.

She went to the emergency room March 22 after experiencing fever, a dry cough and difficulty breathing.

Doctors told Amyiah that she had symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and sent her home with an inhaler. She posted on her Instagram that she won’t be back for a while because she has COVID-19 and is in self-quarantine.

Her conditions worsened March 25. She posted again on Instagram that she was in the ER and might have to stay. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.

She received a COVID-19 test March 25, and the results came back negative the next morning. Doctors said she still likely had COVID-19 and had missed the window for testing positive. After she returned home March 26, Amyiah posted a picture of herself at the hospital and said she was home and had beaten the coronavirus.

The patrol sergeant visited the Cohoons’ home March 27 and said the school superintendent had complained about one of the Instagram posts. He said he had orders to demand that Amyiah delete it, the lawsuit claims.

If she didn’t do it, the sergeant allegedly said, he was under orders to cite Amyiah or her parents for disorderly conduct and to “start taking people to jail.”

Amyiah deleted the post along with her first Instagram post. The second post had been automatically deleted.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the threat of jailing violated Amyiah’s First Amendment rights, an injunction preventing the sheriff from citing Amyiah or her parents for disorderly conduct, and nominal damages.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Cohoons by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Samuel Hall, a lawyer for the Marquette County sheriff’s department and the sheriff, defended their actions in statements to the Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Hall said no one was threatened with arrest, and an “aggressive defense” is planned.

Hall said the Instagram posts “caused distress and panic within the school system,” and law enforcement had acted in a good faith effort to avoid unfounded panic.

“This case is nothing more than a 2020 version of screaming fire in a crowded theater,” Hall said.

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