Man Arrested For Calling Police Racist in Facebook Comment Receives $35K Settlement
Madison, WI — Thomas Smith, 27, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for leaving negative remarks on a local police department’s Facebook page back in 2012. After fighting the charges with his own lawsuit, Smith was recently awarded a $35,000 settlement because his rights were violated by the arrest.
The feud between Smith and the police began after he left a number of comments on a police department facebook page. In a comment thread started by Officer Nicholas Stroik, another Facebook user identified Stroik as a racist and said he had expressed that African-American people “don’t belong in his town.”
Smith then posted two comments in response, saying “Fuck the fucking cops they ant shit but fucking racist basturds an fucking all of y’all who is racist” and “Fuck them nigers bitchs wat you got on us, not a dam thing so fuck off dicks.” [Spelling in original].
Smith’s posts, along with any other posts criticizing the police were quickly deleted. Soon after, he was contacted by police who asked him if he had made the comments. When he admitted to exercizing his right to free speech, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computer.
After he was arrested, Smith told the police, “I put it on there, I don’t regret it and I mean it.” He was subsequently banned from using a computer or phone.
The prosecution argued that Smith’s posts were not protected by free speech because they were classified as “fighting words.”
Initially, Smith was convicted and was sentenced to a year of probation and 25 hours of community service. But shortly after, he ended up winning the case on appeal and having the convictions thrown out. The appeals court ruled that the “fighting words” doctrine only applies when the two parties are within close proximity to one another.
“In our country, we are entitled to criticize our government with passion. The use of some four-letter words in the course of doing so is never a crime,” Smith’s attorney, Thomas Aquino, said in a statement.