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Sheriff Accused of Violating Teen’s Speech

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The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against the Marquette County sheriff and a patrol sergeant after they reportedly threatened to arrest an Oxford, Wis. teen for posting on Instagram that she had the coronavirus. 

WILL is suing Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and Sergeant Cameron Klump, alleging they violated Amyiah Cohoon’s First Amendment rights. The Milwaukee-based public interest law firm is representing the girl and her parents, Rick and Angela Cohoon.

As Empower Wisconsin reported, on March 27 Klump threatened to cite or jail Amyiah or her parents if she did not remove the social network post indicating she was recovering from COVID-19, according to the lawsuit.

Amyiah, a sophomore at Westfield High School, developed a severe respiratory illness in March after a spring break trip to Florida, the lawsuit alleges. She was on a spring break trip to Disney World and Universal Studios in Florida with her high school’s band class. 

Four or five days after she returned from Florida, Amyiah began feeling ill, the lawsuit states. “Her symptoms included a fever and dry cough, symptoms consistent with COVID-19.”

Doctors at Divine Savior Hospital in Portage indicated to the Cohoons that their daughter likely had COVID-19 but could not be tested due to the testing criteria at the time.

She was sent home with instructions to strictly self-quarantine. Amyiah posted to Instagram a selfie from her spring break trip with a caption:

“Hey guys… sorry I’ve been on a long break.. I wont be back for a while longer due to me no[w] having the COVID-19 virus… I don’t want the attention its just the truth… I am now in self quarantine and am not allow[e]d to leave my room and have an inhaler since they said to go home… best of wishes. love you guys.” 

Amyiah ended up in the hospital three days later after symptoms worsened. She tested negative for COVID-19 in Madison, but doctors noted that the 16-year-old had “symptoms consistent with COVID-19” but had missed the testing window, according to the court documents.

Recovering at home, Amyiah posted to Instagram again, this time a photo of herself at the hospital with an oxygen mask on her face. 

“I am finally home after being hospitalized for a day and a half. I am still on breathing treatment but have beaten the coronavirus. Stay home and be safe,” Amyiah wrote, according to court documents. 

“Westfield School District officials then swung into action to tell district parents that Amyiah was not telling the truth about her COVID-19 experience and complained to the Marquette County Sheriff,” WILL stated in a previous press release. 

On March 27, Klump was dispatched to the Cohoons’ home to demand the Instagram post be removed or face arrest for disorderly conduct. 

“Sergeant Klump stated that he had direct orders from Sheriff Konrath to demand that Amyiah delete this post, and, if she did not, to cite Amyiah and/or her parents for disorderly conduct and to ‘start taking people to jail,’” the lawsuit alleges. 

The police report also states that Klump ‘advise[d] Richard [Cohoon] that if they were not willing to take the post down, that there would be the possibility of a County Ordinance Disorderly Conduct or being arrested for Disorderly Conduct,’” court documents claim. 

Amyiah’s father offered to show Klump the medical documents they had received on their daughter’s condition, but the deputy said “he was not there to gather information but to complete Sheriff Konrath’s order,” according to the filing.

The family argued for their constitutional rights, but eventually took down the posts after the threat from law enforcement.

While the Cohoons reached out to the school to warn them about their daughter’s condition, school officials failed to contact the family about Amyiah’s symptoms, the lawsuit alleges.

Westfield School District Administrator Robert Meicher, however, included a section in his March 27 update describing the girl’s post as a “foolish means to get attention.”

“It was brought to my attention today that there was a rumor floating out there that one of our students contracted Covid-19 while on the band trip to Florida two weeks ago. Let me assure you there is NO truth to this. This was a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed. 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,’ the administrator wrote.

WILL issued a demand letter to Konrath on April 3, requesting an apology and acknowledgement that the Cohoons have a First Amendment right to freely express themselves on social media. Sheriff Konrath has not met either demand. 

Konrath has failed to respond. 

“There are no circumstances that would allow law enforcement to police social media in this way,” said WILL Deputy Council Luke Berg in a press release. “At a moment when civil liberties need to be guarded most, the Marquette County Sheriff must be held accountable.”

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