The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit Feb. 25, 2014, on behalf of a Second Amendment advocate whose free speech rights were violated. Last July, Jordan Klaffer was forced to remove social media postings criticizing a police officer in southeast Missouri.
Klaffer is a gun owner who frequently fires his gun at objects on private property. On May 1, 2013, Jerry Bledsoe, a police officer, confronted Klaffer while responding to a noise complaint. Klaffer videotaped the interaction, where Bledsoe issued an ultimatum to Klaffer to surrender his guns or be arrested. Klaffer refused to give up his guns and was arrested for disturbing the peace.
To express his opinion that Officer Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, Klaffer posted recordings of the May 1 encounter on YouTube and Facebook. And, on Instagram, he posted a picture of Bledsoe alongside a photo of Saddam Hussein, with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”
Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet. “A government order prohibiting criticism of government is the worst kind of censorship,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
“Gun advocates who fear the government is infringing on the Second Amendment have every right to broadcast their beliefs,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “The ACLU will always push back against government censorship.”
A copy of the YouTube video taken by Klaffer can be accessed below.
Police Officer Jerry Bledsoe sent a written apology to Second Amendment advocate Jordan Klaffer, and agreed to pay damages, court costs and attorneys’ fees. The Village of Kelso, where Bledsoe works, also assured Klaffer in writing that they will instruct police officers to not seek court orders to censor individuals who are critical of police officers’ actions. In response, today Klaffer and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri asked the United States District Court to dismiss the First Amendment lawsuit filed in February on Klaffer’s behalf.
“Government officials cannot abuse their power by ordering the censorship of material that is critical of their actions,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Censorship of criticism of police officers is an affront to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.”
“This is an important win for First Amendment freedoms,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “It is a reminder for all police departments that citizens have a right to record public interactions with police officers and share those recordings freely.”