An Oxford, Wisconsin, teenager and her family are suing the local sheriff’s department after an officer reportedly threatened to arrest the teen if she didn’t delete a COVID-19-related Instagram post on her personal social media page.
What are the details?
Amiyah Cohoon, 16, had just gotten back from a school-sponsored March trip to Disney World when she came down with a respiratory illness. The illness was identical in symptoms to the coronavirus.
Amiyah, a student at Westfield Area High School in Westfield, Wisconsin, said that she began developing symptoms of a COVID-19 infection after returning home from the trip, which was cut short because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Her family sought medical care for her, but she was unable to receive a coronavirus test at the time. Instead, local medical professionals diagnosed her with an upper respiratory infection, but pointed out that her symptoms were “consistent with COVID-19,” according to the lawsuit.
After Amiyah went home, she posted on her Instagram page telling people that she had the coronavirus and had placed herself in self-quarantine as a result.
When her condition worsened, her family took her to a local hospital, where she was tested for coronavirus. The test came back negative, but the suit states that medical professionals told Amiyah and her family that she did likely have the coronavirus, but that she had missed the window of testing to render a positive result.
Amiyah’s visit to the hospital, of course, constituted another Instagram post — this time a photo of herself at the facility wearing an oxygen mask.
Enter the police
A day after the photo went up, Patrol Sgt. Cameron Klump from the Marquette County Sheriff’s Department paid a visit to the Cohoon residence. The lawsuit points out that Sheriff Joseph Konrath — who caught wind of the Instagram post from Amiyah’s high school — requested that Klump visit the Cohoons and direct them to remove the teen’s Instagram post.
Klump reportedly told the family that that if they did not comply with Konrath’s request, they could face disorderly conduct charges, and that he would have to start “taking people to jail.”
According to the suit, Konrath reportedly felt it was within his right to demand the teen remove the post as there were reportedly no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county at the time.
Naturally concerned over a possible arrest, the teen complied and deleted the post in question.
Later that day, the family discovered that Westfield Schools District Administrator Bob Meicher issued a statement to district families who were concerned about the teen’s post.
A portion of his message to the families read,”Let me assure you there is NO truth to this. This was a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed. This rumor had caught the attention of our Public Health Department and she was involved in putting a stop to this nonsense.”
The message — sent on March 27 — is still live on the district’s website at the time of this writing.
So what happened then?
Outraged, the Cohoon family reached out to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
The organization sent Konrath and the sheriff’s department a letter notifying them that they had violated the teen’s First Amendment rights. The letter also requested an apology, as well as a clarification on any potential charges over the Instagram post.
The suit alleges that Konrath refused to issue an apology.
In response, the family chose to sue both Konrath and Klump in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on allegations that they violated the teen’s First and 14th Amendment rights.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the family’s suit seeks “nominal damages” as well as an injunction barring the sheriff from arresting, jailing, or citing the family for free speech.
Also, the Associated Press reports that the teen also demands that she be “permitted to post on social media again without fear of being charged or taken to jail.”
You can read the lawsuit here.
What is the sheriff’s department saying?
In a statement, Sam Hall — an attorney for the sheriff — said that the teen “caused distress and panic” with her post.
“This case is nothing more than a 2020 version of screaming fire in a crowded theater,” Hall said. “It is unfortunate that the plaintiff brings this lawsuit now, while law enforcement should be able to focus solely on the public health crisis that we currently face. However, we plan to mount an aggressive defense to this lawsuit.”