Wisconsin teenager wins lawsuit over COVID social media post | Michigan News


By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) – A Wisconsin high school student on Friday won a federal lawsuit she filed against a sheriff who threatened her with jail at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic if she did not remove posts about social media saying she had the virus.

U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig has ruled Amiyah Cohoon’s constitutional right to free speech was violated when a Marquette County Sheriff’s Deputy in March 2020 asked the Oxford teenager to withdraw her posts on Instagram or to be arrested.

“The First Amendment is not a framework for the government to turn on and off,” the judge wrote. “It applies in times of tranquility and in times of conflict.”

The Wisconsin Institute for Liberty and Law has filed a lawsuit against Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and a patrol sergeant. Luke Berg, the lawyer who filed the case, said that “this ruling underscores that First Amendment rights cannot be enforced in an emergency. More importantly, law enforcement has no not trying to regulate social media posts by local teens. “

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Samuel Hall, attorney for the Sheriff and Sheriff’s Department for Marquette County, said at the time the lawsuit was filed that the girl’s messages “caused distress and panic within the school system and that the police acted in good faith at the request of school health officials. effort to avoid unfounded panic.

Hall did not immediately return a message on Friday requesting comment on the decision.

The judge said the defense of the sheriff’s office that he was acting in the greater good of the community does not isolate him.

“Requiring a 16-year-old to remove protected speech from her Instagram account is a First Amendment violation,” the judge said.

Cohoon, who was in second grade in Westfield School District in Marquette County last year, had severe respiratory illness with symptoms matching those of COVID-19 while on a spring break trip to Florida , according to the lawsuit. She tested negative, but her lawyer said doctors told the girl’s family she likely had the virus, but missed the window to test positive.

The girl published an article about her experience on March 26, 2020. Her first Instagram post showed her staring out the window with the message: “I won’t be back for a while because of me… j i have the COVID-19 virus …. I don’t want the attention, it’s just the truth.

A second post, showing her in a hospital bed attached to what appears to be an oxygen mask, included the caption “Winning the fight with Covid-19”. It is this post that the Sheriff’s Deputy had a screenshot of and asked him to delete, according to his attorney.

At the time, Marquette County had only had two confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of Friday, there were 1,652 confirmed cases and 24 deaths, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

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