Time and again, those in positions of authority, abuse that authority by intimidating and even arresting those with whom they politically disagree. We have seen this scenario play out like a broken record against individuals expressing their legal and peaceful views on social media only to be visited by police and even kidnapped and caged.
Amyiah Cohoon learned about this authoritarian practice last year when she was a sophomore in high school. Last year, she took a trip to Florida for spring break with the Westfield Area High School band. Their trip was cut short, however, as it took place in the middle of March 2020 — when governments began implementing lockdowns over COVID-19.
While on the trip, Cohoon felt that she contracted the virus. Testing at this time was scant and unreliable at best so when the results for her coronavirus test came back negative, she and her doctors both felt that she was still positive.
When she first felt sick, she took to her Instagram account to let her friends and family know. She told them that even though she tested negative, her doctors felt she had it. Later, she took to Instagram again to let everyone know she had beat it and was better, urging others to stay safe.
It was a benign post, completely innocent in nature, and had no ill will toward anyone. Despite these factors, Marquette County Sheriff’s Sgt. Cameron Klump and his boss took issue with it and on March 27, 2020, he personally visited Cohoon in her home and told her that Sheriff Joseph Konrath had ordered the posts be taken down —or else.
When asked why, Klump told the family that Konrath “didn’t believe there were any confirmed cases of COVID in the county.”
The school board also got on the bandwagon and alerted all the parents in town that there was “no truth” to the “rumors” that a student had contracted COVID. But there was truth to it.
Nevertheless, the sheriff released a statement calling Cohoon’s post “a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed.”
Even if Cohoon’s post was a means of garnering attention, millions of other people at the same time were taking to Facebook saying the exact same thing. It was common for many folks during the beginning of the pandemic to claim they thought they had already had it back in January or earlier and it would later suggested by studies that COVID was in the US as early as December 2019.
Naturally, after being intimidated and threatened with jail over her free speech, Cohoon’s family sued the deputy and the sheriff over their harassment. This month, they won their lawsuit as U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig granted her summary judgment in the case.
The taxpayers of Marquette County will now be held liable for the Stasi-esque tactics of their sheriff’s department.
“The First Amendment is not a game setting for the government to toggle off and on. It applies in times of tranquility and times of strife,” Ludwig wrote in a 16-page decision.“While Defendants in this case may have believed their actions served the greater good, that belief cannot insulate them. Demanding a 16-year-old remove protected speech from her Instagram account is a First Amendment violation.”
The rights-violating duo originally attempted to claim qualified immunity in the case but Ludwig denied the request.
The attorneys representing Cohoon argued — and rightfully so — that free speech rights do not suddenly disappear during an emergency. Unfortunately, many in big tech and government disagree. Luckily for Cohoon, however, the court did not.
It wasn’t a total win, however. After winning the lawsuit, Cohoon’s parents sought an injunction against the sheriff and deputy for clearly overstepping their authority by threatening to arrest and charge an innocent teenager for her free speech. According to the Wausau Daily Herald, however, Ludwig denied the injunction request, saying it was too broad and unnecessary in light of his order that Konrath and his deputy had violated Cohoon’s free speech rights.
Both the deputy and the sheriff will face no consequences for their actions.