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THIS Is Why We Get Riled Up About Free Speech.

There are some times when we get people who write or ask us “why are you so concerned with free speech? It’s not like anything is going to happen that can take it away.”

The Cocoa Beach City Commission notwithstanding, here are two really odd cases where people’s rights were attacked and violated under the color of the law.

The first is out of Washington County, Georgia and comes to us via Popehot.com.

Anne King and her ex-husband had a dispute over medicine for their children. Specifically, while Anne King was home taking care of the kids, she asked her husband to pick up some medicine for them. When the husband refused saying he was too busy, Mrs. King posted this on Facebook:

A friend of Mrs. King, Susan Hines, “liked” the post and responded with “POS — give me an hour and check your mailbox. I’ll be GLAD to pick up the slack.

Perfectly normal comments in today’s society, right?

Unfortunately for Mrs. King, the former Mr. King is Captain Corey King of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.

Corey King saw the post and the “like” by Hines and apparently decided he didn’t like the way he was being talked about so he had his friend Washington County Sheriff’s Investigator Trey Burgamy take a complaint and file charges against Mrs. King and her friend for “criminal defamation.” Mrs. King and Hines were arrested and taken before local magistrate Ralph O. Todd (who is an elected official and not a lawyer.)

Ken White at Popehat.com describes what happened next:

After a hearing at which Captain King was the only witness, Magistrate Todd caused a warrant to issue charging Anne King with criminal defamation: “SUBJECT DID, WITHOUT A PRIVILEGE TO DO SO AND WITH INTENT TO DEFAME ANOTHER, COMMUNICATE FALSE MATTER WHICH TENDS TO EXPOSE ONE WHO IS ALIVE TO HATRED, CONTEMPT, OR RIDICULE, AND WHICH TENDS TO PROVOKE A BREACH OF THE PEACE, SPECIFICALLY, SUBJECT DID MAKE DEROGATORY AND DEGRADING COMMENTS DIRECTLY AT AND ABOUT COREY KING, FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING A BREACH OF THE PEACE. Anne King also contends that Magistrate Todd threatened to “ban her from Facebook.” King claims that Magistrate Todd undertook to explain his view of First Amendment law to the two women:

Hines asked the magistrate about her First Amendment rights. “You can call Mr. King a piece of shit to his face,” the magistrate said. “You can even tell someone else you think he is a piece of shit. But you can’t post it out for the public to see. That’s defamation of character.”

Of course that’s not the law. Calling someone a piece of shit is a hyperbolic insult, not a provable statement of fact, and therefore can’t be defamatory. In fact, directing it to someone’s face is one of the few times it could possibly be illegal — such an insult, directed face to face to the person, is a rare possible example of “fighting words” that might be punished as a breach of the peace. (Amusingly, some courts would say such an insult cannot be fighting words if directed to Captain King because Captain King is a police officer and we presume police officers will not react violently to insults. That is the difference between a presumption and a fact.)

The warrant ordered by “Magistrate” Todd charged King for something that, on its face, is not and cannot be a crime. Georgia used to have a criminal defamation statute, and it appears that Magistrate Todd was trying to track its language. But the Georgia Supreme Court found the statute unconstitutional in 1982, and Georgia took the dead-letter law off the books in 2015. Even if the statute survived, Anne King’s Facebook post could not constitutionally be prosecuted under it. This was a lawless charge. This is not a close call.

After the hearing, Mrs. King was loaded into a police car and taken to jail. Hines was allowed to drive herself to jail where both women were held.

The situation got to be so ridiculous in that while the women were being processed into the jail, (fingerprinted, etc,) the people at the jail could not find a code in the software they use to describe the “crime” the two women were being held on for their records. The jail even called he software maker who apparently responded with “what? We have no idea.” (Or something along those line.)

The women bonded out and returned to court a few days later where they appeared before a judge who actually knew the law.

“I don’t even know why we’re here,” that judge said before the state attorney dismissed the charge. Ms. King has not been formally charged or arrested again — though Captain King has told her “don’t make the mistake of going to Facebook with your little shit you found to fuss about” and has suggested she could face “willful contempt” if she does so.

Anne King is suing Corey King, investigator Trey Burgamy, and Washington County. (The complaint can be read here.)

We wonder if Corey King, Burgamy, and Magistrate Todd had ever really understood or committed to supporting the law of the land and the Constitution. Mrs. King had the absolute right to say what she did and certainly Susan Hines had the right to echo King’s sentiments. In the real world, no one would think twice about that Facebook post but because Corey King, Burgamy and Todd felt they were above the law, they arrested, detained and tried to convict the women of a crime that was not committed.

One last not for the record, one of the classic defenses against defamation charges is the truth. Certainly whether Corey King is a POS is open for debate. In our book, he most certainly is as are his pals Burgamy and Todd.

POS’s all.


The second story comes out of Omaha, Nebraska where a restaurant owner is being tried for “obstructing a government operation.”

In August, a compliance check operated by the Nebraska State Patrol and Project Extra Mile stopped at Salt 88. Two 17-year-olds tried to buy Bud Lights but were turned away by staff.

Horavatinovich posted their photos from the security camera on Twitter and he used the word “sting” in the post. He says he had no way to know if was actually one since the organizers don’t tell restaurants before or after a check – unless they are caught.

“We were presented with two minors trying to buy alcohol at our restaurant. Had I known they were minors working with authorities in a compliance check, I would have deleted it immediately. But we didn’t find that until 12-days after the tweet,” Horavatinovich explained.

Let’s recap. Two underaged kids walk onto private property and into a restaurant where they have no expectation of privacy and tried to get the restaurant to sell the alcohol. The restaurant doesn’t but takes a picture of the two from the security cameras and posts it to Twitter wondering if the two were part of a “sting.”

Seems like a reasonable tweet to us. No one told the restaurant after the denied the kids that the restaurant had passed the “compliance test.” There was no way the restaurant could have known for sure what had happened other than they had followed the law.

The owner of the restaurant is being prosecuted for tweeting out truthful information.

How is that not a violation of the First Amendment?

It’s a ridiculous charge but that didn’t stop the police and the prosecutor from going ahead with the case.

As we were writing this post, the jury came back and announced they had found the restaurant owner “not guilty.”

That’s the correct verdict, but the owner still had to hire a lawyer, be away from his restaurant and be facing a conviction because he spoke the truth.

Nothing will happen to the police or the prosecutor, but the restaurant paid a price.

It is often the process that is the punishment – even for legal actions.

(h/t Overlawyered.com)


It is stupid, ridiculous and wrongful attacks on speech that get us riled up. These attacks don’t happen in a vacuum. Moreover, they wouldn’t happen if people stood up and said “we aren’t going to let you do this. We aren’t going to let you lay the foundation to violate our rights.”

We care deeply about those rights.

Sadly, others do not.



4 Responses to “THIS Is Why We Get Riled Up About Free Speech.”

  1. Glenda the Good says:

    You wonder why people do not trust the Police???????

    It is the felonious arrest or prosecution of otherwise innocent people that creates the rift between the average citizen and law enforcement.

  2. John Acton says:

    “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  3. […] blog of the day is Raised On Hoecakes, with a post on why we get riled up about free […]

  4. Hometown says:

    In reference to the CB commission rules regarding speech at the commission meetings. I’m having trouble squaring this one – I’ve always believed in free speech as the first amendment allows, however there are rules that limit just how free our speech can be (ie. the FCC prohibits profanity on the airwaves, you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theatre, etc). When it comes to government meetings there appears to be some precedent of allowing the meeting chair to limit free speech to some extent. The US Senate appears to do this in their Senate Rule 19 which I believe is intended to ensure an orderly and productive meeting, so i’m not sure how I can get too upset that the CB commissioners are trying to accomplish something similar. So while I believe the intent of the CB policy is good it will be the implementation that could lead to legal problems if a future chair oversteps.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Hometown,

      While I understand your concerns, here’s the rebuttal to your points.

      1) The FCC was told they couldn’t limit profanity on TV a few years ago. Networks limit profanity as part of an agreement – not the government forcing them too. If people want to control what they want to say voluntarily, that’s fine.
      2) Actually, you can yell “fire” in a crowded theater. If you couldn’t, what do you do when there is an actual fire? The theory you are referencing is from a Supreme Court decision – a set of three in fact – where a person was convicted of telling people not to register for the draft in WWI and handling out pamphlets against the war itself. The law was part of the Sedition Act, and that law has been pretty much thrown off the books because of the speech implications. You can yell “fire!” in a theater, but if there is no fire, you may be held accountable for your actions. That’s totally different than saying “you can’t yell ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater.”
      3) The US Senate has rules to which the members agree. That is not the same as the government telling people what they can and cannot say. Once again, if a person wants to agree to those rules, they can. No one has ever challenged the rules in the Senate, and papers I have read have questioned whether if someone did, they would be found Constitutional. However, there is another key difference and that is that Congress restricting speech on itself is not the same thing as the government restricting speech on private citizens.

      As to your last point of the Cocoa Beach Commissioners trying to accomplish something similar, it seems to me and the rest of the gang here that what you are saying is that if a person makes a comment in the allotted time, and does not disrupt the meeting, the Commission has the ability to say “you can’t say something we disagree with. Sit down.”

      The Chair does have the ability to maintain order in the meeting. I am not disputing that in the least. But what is being said is that people who don’t say what the Commissioners want can somehow be banned in the room. If you were to get up in to the podium and say “Your behavior in the Ocean Dunes case was reprehensible,” have you disparaged the Commissioners? If you were to say, “Mayor Smith was drunk during the parade….” is that a disparaging remark?

      Who knows and that’s the problem. Instead of a bright line a person knows is there before they cross it, what is “disparaging” is flexible and moving.

      But here’s the real issue……

      If a person gets up there and makes a nice statement about someone in the City government, should the opposite point of view be heard? If the speaker who disagrees with the first speaker makes their comment within the time limit and does not prevent the meeting from going forward, why should the Commissioners have a right to say “you can’t say that?”

      Don’t we have the right to seek redress with the government? Doesn’t that mean by definition that we are going to insult or tick off someone? Doesn’t that mean that we are going to say negative things about someone or someone’s performance?

      IF the City wants to say that no comments of a personal nature can be made and sticks to that rule, that’s fine. They can ban a class of speech. (In this case the “class” being “personal comments.”) What they cannot do is allow personal comments and then say “you can only say nice things. If you say things that are not nice, we will throw you out.”

      That’s “viewpoint discrimination” where the government allows one point of view but does not allow another in an arena or forum the government establishes to hear comments and feedback from the citizens.

      It’s illegal and it’s unConstitutional.

      I don’t know about you, but anytime the government at any level says “the heck with the Constitution and the law,” I get worried and upset.

      Shame on them all for sitting there like bumps on a log abandoning the oaths of office.

      A. Afterwit.

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