A student in Marquette County is suing after allegedly being threatened with arrest if she did not remove her Instagram post about her possible infection with the Coronavirus.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday on behalf of Amyiah Cohoon and her family against Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the Oxford, Wisconsin teen, over the removal from the social media website of a picture of Coon in the hospital.
“There are no circumstances that would allow law enforcement to police social media in this way,” said WILL Deputy Counsel Luke Berg in a statement Thursday. “At a moment when civil liberties need to be guarded most, the Marquette County Sheriff must be held accountable.”
The lawsuit in the Eastern District Federal Court is the result of a March incident where the teen and her parents were allegedly threatened with arrest unless an Instagram post was removed concerning Amyiah Cohoon’s possible infection with the Coronavirus while on a Spring break trip to Florida with many of her classmates.
A picture of the student was posted on the social media website while she was hospitalized for what doctors told her was likely COVID-19. The photo had the caption, “I am still on breathing treatment but have beaten the coronavirus. Stay home and be safe.”
Cohoon had tested negative for the Coronavirus. However, her doctors informed her she likely had the disease but tested negative because she was outside the testing window of time for the infection.
The school where Cohoon attended, Westfield Area High School in Westfield, Wisconsin, became aware of the Instagram post and Cohoon’s condition. However, the school did not warn other parents of the possible health issue. Instead, the school sent out a message to parents saying “rumors” of a student infected with the Coronavirus were untrue and “the source of the rumor was addressed.”
The high school contacted the sheriff’s department to have them compel the Cohoon family to take the Instagram post down. Konrath sent Patrol Sergeant Cameron Klump to the Cohoon home, and the sergeant allegedly threatened the family with a disorderly conduct ticket and jail if the social media post was not removed.
Klump allegedly told the Cohoon family Konrath wanted the post removed because there were no confirmed cases of Coronavirus infections in the Marquette County at that time. When offered evidence of Cohoon’s diagnosis, Klump allegedly told the family that he was not there to gather information but to enforce the sheriff’s order.
The family, fearful of the consequences, complied with the sergeant’s request.
Konrath declined to comment to RightWisconsin. However, his attorney, Sam Hall of Crivello Carlson, promised to “mount an aggressive defense to this lawsuit in a statement to RightWisconsin on Thursday.
“To be clear, no one was arrested or threatened with arrest during this incident,” Hall said in an email. “Based on the legitimate concerns raised by school officials, law enforcement asked for voluntary compliance with a request and the plaintiff complied with the request. It is unfortunate that the plaintiff brings this lawsuit now, while law enforcement should be able to focus solely on the public health crisis that we currently face; however, we plan to mount an aggressive defense to this lawsuit.”
Hall also accused Cohoon of causing an unnecessary panic.
“She broadcasted this message days after a cross-country trip in close quarters with many classmates and parents, who would have faced guidelines to self-isolate away from their families and work for 14 days – had the plaintiff actually tested positive,” Hall said. “This student’s actions caused distress and panic within the school system and law enforcement acted at the request of school health officials in a good faith effort to avoid unfounded panic. This case is nothing more than a 2020 version of screaming fire in a crowded theater.”
However, Cohoon was hospitalized twice for a respiratory ailment following the trip to Florida. After the first visit, Cohoon was told that she likely had the virus but did not meet the criteria for testing. During the second visit, Cohoon was tested but it came back negative. However, her doctor believed that the test was too late to detect the virus but that Cohoon likely had been infected. Cohoon was in quarantine as a result of the illness.
As the brief by WILL notes, a number of Coronavirus cases go undetected by the tests available, possibly one in three cases.
The school district was not included in the lawsuit. School officials may or may not be added to legal action in the future, according to WILL, but no final decision has been made.