(Red Oak) -- Adams County authorities have agreed to pay a Red Oak man alleging his free speech rights were violated.
In a press release Monday, the ACLU of Iowa announced the Adams County Sheriff's Office is paying Jon Goldsmith $10,000 in damages as part of a settlement agreement. Back in May, the ACLU filed suit in federal court naming the sheriff's office, Deputy Cory Dorsey and Sergeant Paul Hogan as co-defendants. The suit says in July 2018, Goldsmith attended a ceremony in Corning where he observed Dorsey arrest a man he knew. Goldsmith later posted on the sheriff's office Facebook page, criticizing the handling of the arrest. Goldsmith was then charged with 3rd degree harassment for the post--a charge that was later dropped. Goldsmith said back in May he was suing the sheriff's office because he was concerned about the department's actions.
"It's a matter of free speech," said Goldsmith. "Adams County should be upholding the law, not breaking it. That includes criticizing them, along with the government. I'm bringing this lawsuit because I'm afraid that if they don't get stopped, they are going to keep charging a lot of people and causing a lot of grief."
Des Moines Attorney Glen Downey--who assisted the ACLU in the case--says this type of case happens frequently with law enforcement.
"They're used to filing harassment charges against individuals, where two individuals are in the middle of some sort of dispute and a person will repeatedly call or email after being told to stop," said Downey. "That's what they're used to and they forget that when the criticism is directed at them, those sorts of usual criminal actions that they are used to filing against, don't apply to themselves. It's this sort of Facebook post that's absolutely protected, unless there was some sort of true, imminent threat. Any sort of criticism is just something they have to get used to, no matter how much they personally dislike it. The First Amendment absolutely protects that sort of criticism."
The suit cited the 1989 Iowa Supreme Court case State v. Fratzke, which protects criticism of law enforcement--even if it includes vulgarities. In addition to the settlement agreement, the court issued a permanent injunction ordering the sheriff's office to stop criminally charging people criticizing its law enforcement officers. Also as part of the agreement, the sheriff's office must provide its officers training approved by the ACLU on free speech rights, and must adopt a social media policy. Adams County authorities also agreed to pay the ACLU's attorney fees.