A federal judge has ordered former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke to face trial in connection with a First Amendment complaint filed in response to his Facebook posts.
U.S. District Judge J. P. Stadtmueller has scheduled a jury trial to start later this month concerning a couple of Facebook posts published following an incident that unfolded onboard a Milwaukee-bound aircraft last January between Mr. Clarke and the plaintiff, local resident Daniel Black.
Mr. Black approached Mr. Clarke during the boarding process and asked him if he was the Milwaukee sheriff, according to court documents. Mr. Clarke responded affirmatively, and Mr. Black reacted by shaking his head and walking away, the documents said.
Mr. Clarke notified authorities afterwards and arranged to have Mr. Black questioned after their plane landed at the Milwaukee airport, according to court documents. Mr. Black later filed a formal complaint with the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, prompting the pair of Facebook posts at the center of his lawsuit.
“Next time [Black] or anyone else pulls this stunt on a plane they may get knocked out. The Sheriff … does not have to wait for some goof to assault him. He reserves the reasonable right to pre-empt a possible assault,” the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office posted on its public Facebook page on Jan. 18, 2017.
“Cheer up, snowflake … if Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to whine about it,” Mr. Clarke posted the following day accompanying a picture of the passenger.
Mr. Black ultimately sued Mr. Clarke over the airport encounter as well as the Facebook posts, alleging violations of his rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Weighing in from Milwaukee federal court Friday, Judge Stadtmueller dismissed most of the allegations against Mr. Clarke, but not the claims surrounding the couple of Facebook posts.
Mr. Black “has raised a triable issue of fact as to his claim for First Amendment retaliation based on Clarke’s Facebook posts,” the judge wrote, adding the posts could reasonably be understood as a “threat, coercion, or intimidation that punishment … will immediately follow.”
“Of course, another interpretation is that the posts are intentionally hyperbolic (and juvenile) attempts at mockery and self-promotion, and that an ordinary person would not be intimidated by them,” the judge added.
The case will go before a jury trial on Jan. 22, according to the judge’s order.
Mr. Clarke could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mr. Clarke, 61, served as sheriff of Milwaukee County from 2002 to 2017. He campaigned for Mr. Trump during the president’s 2016 campaign and was previously reported to be in the running for a position in his Department of Homeland Security.