Political Speech

Iowa Man Sues County Sheriff’s Department for Free Speech Violations

First Amendment Monument
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Independence Park, Philadelphia Flickr/elPadawan

The ACLU is suing an Iowa county’s sheriff’s department on behalf of a man who says his First Amendment rights were violated when he was charged with criminal harassment after he posted negative comments about a police officer’s conduct.

John Goldsmith was attending a street festival in Corning, Iowa, when he witnessed Adams County deputy sheriff Cory Dorsey conduct a traffic stop on a friend of his. Afterwards, Goldsmith took to Facebook, and in a colorful post laced with obscenities, he criticized Dorsey’s handling of the traffic stop.

According to the complaint, once Dorsey and his supervisor, Sergeant Paul Hogan, were apprised of Goldsmith’s Facebook post, he was arrested for 3rddegree harassment under Iowa state law.

Goldsmith hired an attorney to contest the charges, citing free speech violations. On October 3, 2018, a court agreed with Goldsmith and dismissed the criminal charges against him.

The recent lawsuit filed against Adams County, Dorsey, and Hogan alleges that Adams County police officers routinely threaten to arrest, and/or arrest and criminally charge, citizens who openly criticize them, thus violating their First Amendment right.

“This is really a classic free speech case, and we are very happy to bring it,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, at a news conference. “We hope we will be able to protect our client’s First Amendment rights in this case and get a declaration from the court finding that the actions of the sheriff’s deputies in Adams County were unconstitutional.”

In addition to recouping his lawyer’s fees, Goldsmith is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, and is asking the court to require Adams County police officers to be educated about free speech rights.

Des Moines Register KMA Land Complaint