(CN) - A Florida man should not have been banned from criticizing a police officer on the Internet, a state appeals court ruled.
Patrick Neptune alleged that Officer Philip Lanoue cut him off in traffic. The men lived in the same neighborhood, and Neptune followed Lanoue home and scolded him for his driving.
According to Neptune, Lanoue followed him as he left the officer's home, and wrote him a ticket for failure to wear a seat belt, an allegation Lanoue denied.
The plaintiff also claims the officers reported the incident to his parents.
Neptune subsequently sent several letters to Lanoue's chief and several other public officials, complaining about his alleged mistreatment by the officer. He says she also sent at least three letters to Lanoue's home address. and posted the officer's picture on a "copblock" website with a complaint about the incident.
Lanoue sought a stalking injunction against Neptune, which the court granted.
Neptune was prohibited from coming with 500 feet of the officer's home, posting on the Internet about him or defacing Lanoue's property.
Neptune appealed, arguing that the injunction against his Internet activity violated his First Amendment rights.
The Fourth District Florida Court of Appeals upheld most of the injunction in a decision written by Judge Alan Forst.
However, the judge agreed with Neptune on the constitutionality of his Internet postings. He noted that the key issue is whether Neptune's postings were a matter of public concern.
"While personal attacks on the Officer ordinarily would not be considered 'of public concern,' Appellant's online posting was exclusively about an alleged abuse of power by the officer acting in his official capacity as a police officer," Forst wrote.
"Obviously, alleged misconduct by police officers is a matter of general interest and of value and concern to the public," the judge added.
Therefore, Forst stated, Neptune's postings online should be protected by the First Amendment.
Remanding the case, Forst stated that the trial court "must narrow the scope of the injunction to those communications directed to the Officer with respect to 'purely private matters' causing 'substantial emotional distress' to the officer or his family and 'serving no legitimate purpose.'"
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