16-year-old Amyiah Cohoon was one of the early coronavirus patients. The Wisconsin teenager had taken a field trip with her classmates to Florida in early March, just as the virus hysteria was starting up. They wrapped up the field trip early amid concerns and returned to Oxford, Wisconsin. Within a few days, Cohoon was starting to show symptoms of the virus. This was before testing was readily available, but doctors pretty much concluded she had the virus based off of her symptoms.
After returning home, she self-isolated for a few days to let the virus run its course. Her condition worsened and she eventually ended up in the hospital for a couple of days. She returned home after being discharged, and she has apparently recovered and is in good health.
While this was going on, she started making Instagram posts about the ordeal.
This led to a new complication. On March 27th, Marquette County Sheriff’s Deputy Cameron Klump knocked on her family’s door and demanding she remove her posts on Instagram or she would be arrested and thrown in jail on disorderly conduct charges. Apparently the school officials thought the girl was making up the story, and making posts about having the virus and her parents calling school officials to inform them that their daughter has the virus and they might want to inform other students constitutes unlawfully creating a panic.
Cohoon went home and posted on Instagram letting people know that she had COVID-19 and was in self-quarantine. Her condition worsened and she was brought to the hospital for treatment. She posted again about the experience on Instagram. Finally, they were able to test her, but the test came back negative. According to the lawsuit, doctors told her it was likely she missed the window for testing positive, but she probably did have COVID-19, despite the test results. (False negative results have been an ongoing issue in accurately diagnosing infections.)
After she returned home from this visit, she posted again on Instagram and included a picture of herself at the hospital wearing an oxygen mask.
The very next day, Patrol Sergeant Cameron Klump from Marquette County Sheriff’s Department showed up on the family’s doorstep. He was there under orders from Sheriff Joseph Konrath to demand that Amyiah and her father, Richard Cohoon, remove Amyiah’s Instagram posts. If they refused, Klump said the family faced charges for disorderly conduct and Klump told them he would “start taking people to jail,” according to the suit.
Konrath’s justification was that there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county. He found out about the Instagram post from Amyiah’s high school. The Cohoon family had contacted the school to let them know about Amyiah’s infection, but nobody ever contacted them back to get more information. It appears that instead the school contacted the police. Under the threat of arrest, Cohoon complied and deleted the allegedly illegal Instagram post.
That evening the family would discover that a school administrator sent out an alert to families accusing Cohoon of making it up and assuring families that any information of infection was just a rumor. “Let me assure you there is NO truth to this,” the message read. “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.”
No charges ended up being filed, no one was arrested, but the fear and panic caused by the Sheriff’s deputy and the elected Sheriff on the family was enough to catch the attention of the Wisconsin Institute For Law & Liberty (WILL), who is now representing the family in a lawsuit served on the Sheriff’s office.
WILL Sues Marquette County Sheriff for Free Speech Violation
Sheriff, Patrol Sergeant threatened teen with arrest over social media post
The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and a Patrol Sergeant for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of an Oxford, Wisconsin teen. The lawsuit results from a March incident where Marquette County law enforcement threatened the teen and her parents with arrest unless an Instagram post was removed.
The Quote: Deputy Counsel Luke Berg said, “There are no circumstances that would allow law enforcement to police social media in this way. At a moment when civil liberties need to be guarded most, the Marquette County Sheriff must be held accountable.”
Background: Rick and Angela Cohoon’s teen daughter Amyiah developed a severe respiratory illness in March after a spring break trip to Florida. After one visit to a local hospital, her symptoms worsened and she ended up at a hospital in Madison. Amyiah tested negative for COVID-19 in Madison, but doctors told her that she likely had the virus but had missed the testing window. Amyiah posted updates to Instagram about this experience, including a post after she returned from the hospital that she had “beaten the coronavirus.”
Then, on March 27, a Marquette County Patrol Sergeant was dispatched to the Cohoon’s home to demand the Instagram posts be removed or face arrest for disorderly conduct. The Instagram posts were removed after the threat from law enforcement.
WILL issued a demand letter to Marquette County Sheriff Joseph 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.
WILL’s lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
The full text of the complaint can be found on the WILL website.