The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia filed a First Amendment lawsuit Friday that says a Hancock County political activist received unlawful treatment from the West Virginia State Police and the Hancock County Prosecutor’s office because of Facebook posts he made.
The lawsuit says the speech of David Jones, of New Cumberland, was “unquestionably protected” by the United States Constitution and the West Virginia Constitution. But the defendants “ignored their oaths of office, committed ethical violations, and engaged in a conspiracy to unlawfully arrest and criminally prosecute Mr. Jones solely because they disagreed with Mr. Jones’ constitutionally protected speech,” according to the lawsuit.
West Virginia State Police Trooper Michael White, Hancock County Prosecutor Jim Davis and assistant prosecutor Jack Wood are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says White arrested Jones in his home on June 26, 2015, without a warrant and filed a criminal complaint that took issue with a Facebook post Jones made two days prior. White was charged with making terroristic threats.
Jones’ post criticized four Hancock County officials and said “I will hunt them down and put a bullet in their head” if “ANYTHING drug related ever happens to either of my girls.”
The criminal complaint said Jones “made threats to hunt down and put a bullet in the head of” area law enforcement officers, according to a previous Gazette-Mail article.
The post is “a clear example of political speech,” the lawsuit says, because of its context regarding recent issues in the community. The lawsuit added that the post’s content is “clearly an example of hyperbole used to emphasize an argument” and Jones’ statement is “explicitly conditional in nature.”
The state voluntarily dismissed the case but Jones remained in custody “because White was preparing new complaints,” the lawsuit alleges. White filed two new criminal complaints regarding two Facebook posts made on Jones’ Facebook account in 2014 and Jones was charged with two counts of retaliation against a public official, according to the lawsuit.
One of the posts, made in July 2014, said Hancock County Circuit Judge Martin Gaughan “feels sympathetic to heroin users.” It continued, “Go to the [judge’s] home and take what you want, trash the place and terrorize HIS family. He is okay with it.”
During the preliminary hearing, Wood acknowledged the state did not have any evidence of harm occurring because of Jones’ posts and the state “presented no evidence” Jones engaged in any conduct outside the posts, according to the lawsuit.
Jones remained in jail until July 15, 2015 when the defendants agreed to release him on his own recognizance, the lawsuit says. The criminal case against Jones was dismissed on September 12, 2016, it added.
“The facts of this case are outrageous,” said Jamie Lynn Crofts, ACLU of WV legal director, in a news release. “Mr. Jones, a local political activist and Air Force veteran, was arrested without a warrant and criminally prosecuted for expressing his political views. His bail was set at an unreasonably high amount, and he spent almost a month in jail before he was able to return home to his family. This is simply unacceptable.”
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