Damages Awarded After Arrest Over Facebook Joke

(HorizonPost.com) – Last week, a Louisiana jury awarded $205,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to a man who was arrested by the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office in 2020 over a Facebook post, KALB reported.

In March 2020, Waylon Bailey decided to make light of the COVID emergency by comparing the pandemic to the film “World War Z” about a zombie apocalypse.

In an emoji-laden Facebook post, Bailey wrote that the sheriff’s office had instructed deputies who come in contact with infected persons to “SHOOT ON SIGHT.”

Within hours, Bailey’s home was surrounded by about a dozen armed deputies from the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office who arrested him on suspicion of making a terroristic threat, the Washington Post reported.

Bailey was released on bond that same day and the district attorney’s office decided not to pursue the case.

In September 2020, Bailey filed suit against Rapides Parish Sheriff Mark Wood and Detective Randell Iles, claiming they violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

A US District Court Judge dismissed Bailey’s lawsuit in July 2022, ruling that the defendants were protected from litigation by qualified immunity. The judge said Bailey’s arrest was legitimate as he may have “intended to incite lawless action.”

Bailey appealed the judge’s decision.

In August 2023, a 3-judge panel from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth District ruled that Bailey’s social media post was protected under the First Amendment and he should not have been arrested.

The appellate court also ruled that Bailey could continue pursuing legal action against the Rapides Paris Sheriff’s Office, which paved the way for a jury to hear the lawsuit and award damages.

In a press release from the Institute for Justice, which represented Bailey in the suit, Bailey said the jury verdict sent a “clear signal” that law enforcement cannot arrest someone just because they didn’t like what he said.

Bailey’s attorney Andrew Bizer with the Institute for Justice noted in the press release that the jury took less than two hours to reach its verdict, adding that this was a clear message that the jurors “understood that the Facebook post was Constitutionally protected speech.”

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