DES MOINES — A southwest Iowa man filed a free speech lawsuit Tuesday against a sheriff’s deputy, his supervisor and a county government after he was charged with harassment for writing a social media post that profanely criticized the deputy.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of Jon Richard Goldsmith, a Red Oak resident who became angered after attending a festival in Corning and watching an Adams County sheriff’s deputy search a car and have a confrontation with another person.
Goldsmith, 50, later criticized the deputy, Cory Dorsey, in a profane Facebook post that led the sheriff’s department to charge Goldsmith with third-degree harassment. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $625 fine.
After Goldsmith hired an attorney, the charge was dropped but the ACLU sued Adams County, Dorsey and his supervisor, Sgt. Paul Hogan, for what it alleged was a free speech violation.
“Protecting this type of speech directed at government officials is what the First Amendment and Iowa Constitution are all about,” said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen.
“Police are not allowed to try to put people in jail because they annoy the police or say things the police disagree with — on social media or otherwise,” she said.
The suit calls for the county to pay damages to Goldsmith, stop charging people who criticize law enforcement and require training of officers.
Adams County Sheriff Alan Johannes declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In his post on Facebook, Goldsmith alleged Dorsey was wrong to use a dog in an unsuccessful search of a vehicle for drugs and that the deputy later “body slams” a spectator who was “giving them a hard time.”
In a video statement released by the ACLU, Goldsmith said, “Adams County should be upholding the law, not breaking it and that includes criticizing them along with the government.”