ACLU of Iowa files suit to defend right to police criticism


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The Iowa Board of Regents approved the recommendations presented by the Free Speech Committee.

Jake Webster

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a long history of defending the First Amendment right of Americans to freedom of speech.

Tuesday the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on behalf of John Goldsmith who had been charged with misdemeanor harassment for posting criticism of law enforcement on Facebook.

Under the First Amendment, Americans have the right to free speech including publicly criticizing law enforcement officials.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” the First Amendment says.

Asked about the fine line between protected speech and harassment, one of the cooperating attorneys for the ACLU, Glen Downey, said members of law enforcement are used to filing harassment charges against individuals.

“[However, the police] forget that when the criticism is directed towards them, those sorts of usual criminal actions that they’re used to filing against don’t apply to themselves,” Downey said.

The Facebook post Goldsmith created contained numerous expletives and detailed his complaints in explicit detail about Adams County sheriff’s deputy Cory Dorsey, named in the lawsuit.

The ACLU is seeking damages on behalf of Goldsmith to pay for his legal counsel. Goldsmith had incurred fees from his private attorney before the ACLU took up his case upon his private attorney’s referral. 

The First Amendment has been threatened by police action in other recent incidents.

Earlier this month San Francisco based journalist Bryan Carmody had his home raided by armed police using a battering ram. Carmody had refused to reveal a source who had leaked a confidential police report to him.

Police seized Carmody’s laptops, phones and hard drives in an attempt to uncover the source of the leak.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement criticizing the actions of San Francisco’s police.

“The police raid on freelance journalist Bryan Carmody’s home sends a chilling message to all local media,” CPJ’s North America program coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck said. “Authorities should immediately return his equipment, stop pressuring him to reveal the identity of his sources, and pledge to follow California’s shield law.”