Wisconsin Police Settle Facebook Backlash Claim

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A rural Wisconsin village will pay $35,000 to settle claims that it deleted profane Facebook comments that criticized its police as racist.
     Thomas Smith brought the civil rights suit in question after he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for making disparaging remarks on the police department’s Facebook page in 2012.
     Smith had left the comments on a message Officer Nicholas Stroik had posted to Facebook, thanking Arena denizens for their assistance in the recent search for two suspects.
     The post allegedly prompted backlash, with one commenter identifying “Stroik as the police officer who told her that the African-American suspects would stand out because they did not belong in Arena,” according to the complaint.
     Smith says he posted two comments: “Fuck the fucking cops they ant shit but fucking racist basturds an fucking all of y’all who is racist” and “Fuck them nigers bitchs wat you got on us not a dam thing so fuck off dicks.” [Spelling in original].
     There were also comments praising the police, and Smith says these remained on the website but that his posts, along with all other criticism, were deleted.
     Smith confirmed having posted the comments when police contacted him, and he was then arrested for disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computer and telephone, according to the complaint.
     Though a jury convicted Smith on some counts, an appeals court vacated the convictions last year.
     In reply to Smith’s civil pleadings, Arena and Stroik insisted that a First Amendment violation could not have occurred, since the Facebook page in question is not a village-sanctioned website.
     Smith’s attorney, Thomas Aquino, noted in a statement announcing the settlement Tuesday that the village abandoned this claim in subsequent pleadings.
     Aquino praised the settlement agreement, adding that Smith is grateful to have the matter behind him more than three years after his wrongful arrest.
     “In our country, we are entitled to criticize our government with passion,” Aquino said in a statement. “The use of some four-letter words in the course of doing so is never a crime.”
     Meg Vergeront, an attorney for the village with Stafford Rosenbaum, described the settlement as simply a cash payment in exchange for a release of claims.
     In settling, the village has not stipulated to changing how police monitor electronic communication, Vergeront said over the phone.

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