MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal judge on Friday dismissed most claims against former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke that were levied by a man detained at an airport after he shook his head at the provocative lawman during a flight.
But the judge agreed to allow Daniel Black to pursue his lawsuit's claim that centers on a Facebook post Clarke made calling Black a "snowflake" and suggesting harm. Black argues the post was a retaliatory threat intended to deter free speech.
In the ruling, Judge J.P. Stadtmueller said Clarke's directive for his deputies to detain Black wasn't an unconstitutional search and seizure because Black spoke to deputies voluntarily and described them as "kind" during the encounter.
Clarke resigned as sheriff Aug. 31 to join a political action committee that supports President Donald Trump.
The interaction between Clarke and Black happened while they were boarding a flight from Dallas to Milwaukee last January, on the day the Green Bay Packers were facing Clarke's beloved Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs. Black, 25, said Clarke was clad in Dallas gear but wasn't wearing his trademark cowboy hat so Black asked him if he was Milwaukee's sheriff. When Clarke said yes, Black shook his head disapprovingly because he was supporting a rival football team, according to the lawsuit.
Clarke took offense and contacted deputies to wait at Milwaukee's airport to question Black.
Black also argued that Clarke violated his due process rights, saying the sheriff's social media post about the encounter led to online harassment and put him in danger. Stadtmuller said Clarke's "actions reflect poor judgment," but said the claim was meritless.
However, Clarke's posts are still the reason the lawsuit lives on and a trial for the remaining claim is set for Jan. 22.
After Black spoke publicly about his run-in with Clarke, the sheriff posted on Facebook that the next time someone pulled the same "stunt on a plane they may get knocked out." Later, in a post referring to himself in the third person, Clarke said about Black, "Cheer up, snowflake ... if Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn't be around to whine about it."
Stadtmuller said the posts could be interpreted in different ways: On one hand, the posts can be seen as "intentionally hyperbolic (and juvenile) attempts at mockery and self-promotion" and not intimidating. But, the judge said, "the Court cannot say Clarke's posts were so trivial that no jury could find them to be sufficiently threatening to deter future speech."