CHICAGO (CN) – A former clown imprisoned for sexual assault cannot pursue claims over the birthday cards that he was barred from sending to his daughters, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Ronald Schroeder, who performed in Wisconsin as a clown named Silly, was convicted by a jury in 2008 of having sexually assaulted his adult girlfriend. News reports of the trial state that Schroeder had taken nude photos of and had sexually assaulted the woman while she was unconscious. Investigators also reportedly found child pornography on Schroeder’s computer.
In a presentencing interview, probation-parole agent Doug Drankiewicz allegedly told Schroeder that he was “not buying” Schroeder’s story and threatened that to put the man in “prison for a long, long time” if he did not cooperate.
The state judge sentenced Schroeder to six years in prison plus 12 years of extended supervision, with solely “incidental … supervised” contact with minors. The judge said Drankiewicz’s investigation had been “unfair,” “produced an unbalanced result,” and went to “extraordinary lengths” to point out damaging allegations from Schroeder’s past.
Several months later, Schroeder asked adult relatives to send him school pictures of his then 4- and 6-year-old daughters. The prison then contacted Drankiewicz, who confirmed that the request violated the terms of Schroeder’s criminal judgment.
Soon after, Schroeder tried sending his ex-wife a letter containing birthday cards for his daughters, but the prison stopped the mailing because Drankiewicz and his supervisor, Karl Held, agreed that Schroeder was barred from all contact with minors.
Schroeder protested to the sentencing judge, who said that sending mail through the children’s mother constituted “supervised contact” under the judgment, which he formally amended to make more explicit.
The cards were returned to Schroeder within two months. A year later, in January 2010, Held emailed Drankiewicz that they should stop calling Schroeder by his stage name Silly since this “may be construed negatively” in future litigation.
Schroeder then sued Drankiewicz and Held in Wisconsin state court for having violated his First Amendment right to free speech and his “right to familial relations.” The former clown also alleged retaliation, tortious interference, conspiracy to interfere with the sentencing judge’s order, and negligence under state law.
With the case removed to federal court, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Gorence granted summary judgment against all of Schroeder’s claims. She held that, before the state judge clarified the matter, the judgment’s wording supported the probation agents’ reading. Drankiewicz and Held neither violated the Constitution nor state tort law, according to the ruling.
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit affirmed Tuesday with an unpublished opinion.
“Although Schroeder may be disappointed that he could not send a letter containing birthday cards to his daughters at the time of his choosing, the only harm he suffered was a delay of less than two months in sending a single piece of personal mail,” the unsigned ruling states. “This was not an injury of constitutional dimension.” (Emphasis in original.)
Schroeder’s retaliation claim also failed.
“The best that Schroeder can do is point to the sentencing judge’s criticism of Drankiewicz’s presentence investigation, which occurred months before the phone calls at issue in this case, and the e-mails exchanged more than a year later referring to Schroeder by his stage name of ‘Silly’ the clown,” the judge wrote. “Schroeder is correct that he is entitled to have reasonable inferences drawn in his favor, but inferences resting on conjecture (as these do) are not reasonable.” (Parentheses in original.)
The prisoner’s state law claims failed, as well.
“These claims rest entirely on the flawed premise that a judgment expressly restricting Schroeder’s contact with minors instead can be read to affirmatively authorize such contact,” the five-page ruling states (emphasis in original). “As we have noted, the original judgment was not unambiguous on this point; it was not precise about the extent to which Schroeder was allowed to have contact with his children. Until the state court clarified that sending letters to his children through their mothers was a form of permissible supervised contact, the defendants’ interpretation, though mistaken, cannot be understood as an attempt to interfere with the judgment.”
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