MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal jury said Monday night that the former sheriff in Milwaukee, David Clarke, did not violate a man’s free speech with taunting Facebook posts after detaining him at an airport last year for shaking his head at the sheriff.
The civil lawsuit from Daniel Black argued he received hateful messages and was fearful after Clarke called him a “snowflake” online and said Black “wouldn’t be around to whine” if Clarke really wanted to harass him. Clarke made the comment after Black complained to the county that the sheriff had deputies detain him.
Jurors concluded Clarke’s posts were not enough to chill Black’s future speech.
Black says he shook his head at Clarke while boarding a flight last January from Dallas to Milwaukee because Clarke was wearing Cowboys gear when they were playing the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
Black at one point became teary-eyed while testifying Monday, saying he would never file another complaint against an elected official because the incident left him so rattled and that he filed the lawsuit last year because he needed “someone to say this is wrong.”
Black was not arrested or cited, but his attorneys argued that Clarke’s actions — particularly his social media taunts — were retaliatory and infringed on Black’s free speech rights.
“I felt guilty, I felt scared, that I had a target on my back,” Black testified, recalling one post in particular on the sheriff’s official Facebook site.
Clarke wrote on Facebook: “Cheer up, snowflake … if Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to whine about it.”
Clarke was not in court Monday. His attorneys said Black did TV interviews after the encounter and didn’t appear scared.
“Far from being chilled, he was encouraged and he enjoyed it,” attorney Charles Bohl said. He described the case as “an unfriendly internet spat between two people who apparently don’t like each other very much.”
Black wanted jurors to award him a compensation amount that they choose for emotional distress and other damages, as well as attorneys’ fees.
Although Clarke is no longer sheriff, Milwaukee County is paying his legal bills and ultimately would have been liable for any damages.
Clarke resigned Aug. 31 to join a political action committee that supports President Donald Trump.