A federal jury sided with former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke in a dispute over whether Clarke’s Facebook posts violated the free speech rights of a man who had shared a flight with Clarke, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Dan Black, 25, was detained by deputies when the flight landed in Milwaukee last year because he had shaken his head at Clarke before the plane left Dallas. After Black filed a complaint over how he was treated, Clarke put up two posts on the agency’s Facebook page that Black found threatening and intimidating. Black’s lawsuit claimed the posts dissuaded him from ever again seeking redress of a grievance against a powerful government official.
The jury found Black had failed to prove the posts suppressed his willingness to make such a complaint in the future. Black’s attorney, Anne Sulton, asked jurors to impose punitive damages because Clarke “believes he’s unaccountable, above the law.” Clarke did not appear at the trial. The county would have been liable for paying any damages the jury might have awarded Black. Defense attorney Charles Bohl argued that Black and Clarke had a simple “internet spat” with no civil rights implications. He said Black himself was the first to mention the airport incident on social media, seemingly mocking Clarke in one tweet, and gave multiple TV news interviews about his encounter with Clarke and Clarke’s reactions. “Did the posts chill his exercise of his First Amendment rights?” Bohl asked. “It’s a resounding no. He exercised those rights abundantly.” Black testified he hasn’t been able to land a new job because any internet search of his name turns up almost nothing but the dispute with Clarke.