A federal jury ruled in favor of former Sheriff David Clarke Monday in a lawsuit alleging that his Facebook posts infringed on a man’s right to free speech.
Dan Black, 25, shared a flight with Clarke in 2017, which ended with the former sheriff detaining him when the plane landed, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. Black reportedly shook his head at Clarke before the plane took off, apparently causing Clarke to feel threatened. Black filed a formal complaint with the Milwaukee police after his release, but Clarke made two posts on the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Office Facebook page which Black claims were so intimidating that he was dissuaded from ever seeking a redress of grievances from a government official, allegedly violating his right to free speech.
The jury disagreed, siding with arguments from Clarke’s lawyer, Charles Bohl. Bohl argued that rather than infringing on his right to free speech, Black’s incident with Clarke only encouraged it, as the man conducted three TV interviews in the days afterward.
Black told interviewers that he’d recognized Clarke before the plane they shared left Dallas in January 2017, and that he’d asked whether Clarke was in fact the Sheriff Clarke. When Clarke answered in the affirmative, Black shook his head and walked away. When the plane landed in Milwaukee, six deputies were there to detain and question Black at Clarke’s request.
Black was livid upon his release, and was the first of the two to post about the incident on social media. He also filed a complaint requesting that his detainment be investigated. Clarke responded with two posts to the sheriff’s office Facebook page, one of which contained Black’s picture and called him a “snowflake.”
Bohl characterized the incident as an “internet spat,” and the jury agreed that it hardly infringed on Black’s right to free speech. Black said the incident has come to define him online, and several of his friends testified that he was paranoid afterward. He said that given the chance today, he would not have filed the formal complaint.
“It’s been a massive strain on me, my family and friends,” Black testified. “It wasn’t worth it.”
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