David Clarke crossed a line and must now appear for a trial on Jan. 22 after posting threatening Facebook messages directed at a man he encountered last year at an airport, the Huffington Post reported.
Clarke’s posts could “reasonably be understood as a threat, coercion, or intimidation that punishment … will immediately follow,” U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller ruled on Friday while dismissing most of Daniel Black’s civil rights lawsuit.
Here’s the backstory. The two men were on the same flight to Milwaukee. Black asked the sheriff if was David Clarke. He nodded yes, and Black shook his head disparagingly and walked away. Clarke felt disrespected and asked six of his deputies to have a talk with Black after the plane landed. Black posted on social media about the incident and filed a complaint with county officials before filing a lawsuit. It alleged that Clarke violated his Fourth Amendment right (unreasonable seizure by the deputies) in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right (the free speech of shaking his head at the sheriff) and deprived him of due process under the 14th Amendment. The judge threw out most of Black’s lawsuit, noting in part that being questioned by the deputies may have been unpleasant but wasn’t really a seizure.
Clarke, however, may have crossed a line when he posted threatening message against Black, which could constitute intimidation, the judge said. The former sheriff wrote this in one of the posts: “Cheer up, snowflake … if Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to whine about it.” Another post said that if anyone “pulls this stunt on a plane they may get knocked out.” Those threats could have violated Black’s free speech rights. It will be up to a jury to decide.