Teen Sues Sheriff For Allegedly Threatening To Arrest Her Over COVID-19 Post
Madison, WI – The family of a Wisconsin teen who posted a photo claiming she had beaten COVID-19 after traveling to Florida for spring break is suing the local sheriff’s office for allegedly violating her First Amendment rights by ordering her to remove her social media posts.
Sixteen-year-old sophomore Amyiah Cohoon and her parents, Richard and Angela, filed the lawsuit in Green Bay Federal Court on April 16, FOX News reported.
According to the lawsuit, Amyiah traveled to Universal Studios and Disney World with her high school band class on March 7, just as the novel coronavirus was beginning to spread in the United States, the New York Post reported.
She returned home on March 15, and began suffering from a dry cough and fever five days later.
By March 22, the teen was having difficulty breathing, so her mother took her to the Divine Savior Hospital emergency room, the New York Post reported.
Although her symptoms were consistent with COVID-19, she did not meet the criteria to qualify for testing due to the scarce number of tests available at the time, according to the lawsuit.
Amyiah and her parents were told to self-quarantine at home, and the teen was given an inhaler to help ease her breathing difficulties, the New York Post reported.
But her symptoms got even worse on March 25, at which point she was transported to UW Children’s Hospital by ambulance.
According to the lawsuit, Amyiah tested negative for COVID-19 that day, but doctors said she probably “missed the window” for testing positive, the New York Post reported.
After being released from the hospital the following day, the teen posted a selfie of her wearing a hospital mask to Instagram.
“I am finally home after being hospitalized for a day and a half,” she captioned the photo, according to FOX News. “I am still on breathing treatment but have beaten the coronavirus. Stay home and be safe.”
Amyiah also made two earlier posts about her illness, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
In one message, she said she wouldn’t be back for a while because she had contracted the novel coronavirus. In the second message, she mentioned that she might have to remain at the emergency room, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
According to the lawsuit, Marquette County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) Sergeant Cameron Klump went to the family’s residence on March 27 and threatened to “start taking people to jail” for disorderly conduct if Amyiah did not delete her social media posts, according to the New York Post.
In an incident report, Sgt. Klump documented that he delivered the message at the direction of Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath.
“Sheriff Konrath advised me he wished for me to respond to the residence and have the post removed from her social media,” the sergeant’s report read.
Amyiah deleted two of the posts, and a third post deleted automatically after 24 hours, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The family is seeking a declaration confirming that Amyiah’s posts were protected free speech, as well as nominal damages, the New York Post reported.
“The First Amendment’s protection of speech, especially online speech, is as vital as ever during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawsuit read. “This case is about preserving the right to share our experiences with each other during this difficult time.”
Samuel Hall, the attorney representing Sheriff Konrath and the MCSD, denied allegations that Sgt. Klump threatened to arrest anyone over the social media post, FOX News reported.
Hall said that Amyiah’s posts “caused distress and panic within the school system and law enforcement acted at the request of school health officials in a good faith effort to avoid unfounded panic.”
He said he plans to counter the lawsuit with an “aggressive defense,” FOX News reported.
According to Westfield School District Administrator Bob Meicher, there was “no truth” to claims that any local students contracted COVID-19 during the band trip to Florida, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“This was a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed,” Meicher said in an update to parents and guardians. “This rumor had caught the attention of our Public Health Department and she was involved in putting a stop to this nonsense. In times like this, the last thing we need out there is misinformation.”
Hall argued that the teen’s messages were not protected by the First Amendment in this case, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
"This case is nothing more than a 2020 version of screaming fire in a crowded theater," he declared. "It is unfortunate that the plaintiff brings this lawsuit now, while law enforcement should be able to focus solely on the public health crisis that we currently face. However, we plan to mount an aggressive defense to this lawsuit.”
As of Tuesday, 4,499 Wisconsin residents had tested positive for coronavirus, and 230 have died, according to Bing’s COVID-19 Tracker.