Police Chief Jerry Bledsoe of the illage of Kelso, Missouri, just learned an expensive lesson in free speech.
It started last year after Chief Bledsoe threatened Jordan Klaffer with arrest for disturbing the peace for firing guns on his private property, which led to Klaffer posting a video of the incident online.
In response, Bledsoe obtained a court order forcing Jordan Klaffer to take down his Youtube video and remove any text about it from the internet.
Klaffer sued and now Bledsoe has now written an apology.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represented Klaffer in the lawsuit and said that as part of the settlement Kelso police had agreed they would no longer seek to censor criticism of police actions, that Bledsoe had written a personal apology for doing so, and that Bledsoe agreed to pay unspecified damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees. Whether chief Bledsoe or Kelso will be paying these damages remains unclear, but we can assume the taxpayers will be paying it.
The video Bledsoe had sought to censor shows the sheriff at Klaffer’s mother’s house, demanding Klaffer turn over his guns or be arrested for disturbing the peace. After the incident, Klaffer posted videos and pictures of the event on YouTube and Facebook as well as a photo on Instagram of Bledsoe next to Saddam Hussein with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”
The court order received by Klaffer stated the following:
“Respondent is further ordered to remove all videos, pictures, and text data showing Petitioner’s name and picture from the internet and respondent shall refrain from posting all such data in the future.”
As noted by law professor Eugene Volokh, the court order violated the First Amendment. Speech about a person that does not contain a true threat or other unprotected form of speech is constitutionally protected.
“This is an important win for First Amendment freedoms,” said Jeffrey Mittman, director of the ACLU of Missouri, according to the Associated Press. “It is a reminder for all police departments that citizens have a right to record public interactions with police officers and share those recordings freely.”