The Brillion News
MADISON – The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) on Friday, April 3, warned Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and the Westfield School District to respect a student’s constitutional rights or face legal trouble.
The case revolves around free speech and the COVID-19 pandemic. It came to a head when the sheriff’s department threatened to arrest a Westfield student or her parents if she didn’t take down a social media statement about the girl having the virus.
The girl, Amyiah, developed a severe respiratory illness in March after returning home from a spring break school band trip to Florida.
She ended up hospitalized and doctors said they believed she had COVID-19, but it could not be confirmed by testing protocols in effect at the time.
The girl used Instagram to tell friends that she likely got the virus. The family also notified the school district.
WILL attorney Luke Berg said that’s when the school district contacted the sheriff’s department and said it wanted the sheriff to order the Cohoons – Amyiah and her parents Rich and Angela - to stop telling anyone that their daughter had the illness.
Berg said Marquette County Sheriff’s Patrol Sergeant Cameron Klump showed up at the Cohoons’ home and demanded that Amyiah take down her Instagram posts or she or her parents would face arrest for disorderly conduct.
A letter from WILL to the sheriff said that Rick Cohoon refused to comply, but the girl took down the post out of fear that her parents would be jailed.
“Your orders and Patrol Sergeant Klkump’s actions in this matter blatantly violated our clients’ constitutional rights. Social media posts are unquestionably protected by the First Amendment ... and law enforcement may not threaten punishment for exercising First Amendment rights,” Attorney Berg wrote in his letter to Sheriff Konrath.
WILL is demanding that the sheriff affirm in writing that he agrees with WILL on the right of Amyiah and the Cohoons to freely exercise their First Amendment rights on social media – including the right to re-post the messages ordered removed by the sheriff.
WILL also is demanding a public, written apology from the sheriff to the Cohoons.
Berg wrote a similar letter to Bob Meicher, superintendent of the Westfield School District.
It says that the district sent a message to all families in the district that said “there was a rumor floating out there that one of our students contracted COVIUD-19 while on a band trip to Florida...” The school district’s memo said there was no truth to the rumor and it was only a way of getting attention
WILL is demanding that the school district write a public apology to Amyiah and her parents “for your actions in this matter, including accusing Amyiah of not being truthful and engaging in a ‘foolish means to get attention,’ without having any personal knowledge of whether Amyiah actually had COVID-19. WILL is also demanding that the district take down is memo about the incident from its website, and confirm in writing that Amyiah and the Cohoons may freely exercise their First Amendment free speech rights in the future, and that school personnel will not ask any law enforcement agency to punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights.
The WILL letter gave Tuesday, April 7, as the deadline for both the sheriff and school superintendent to comply with its requests.
“If you do not respond, we are prepared to take further action to protect the rights of our clients,” Berg wrote.
WILL is a conservative/libertarian think tank and public interest law firm with a history of taking legal actions against any infringements on constitutional rights.