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Marquette County sheriff sued for threatening teen over COVID-19 Instagram post

A teenager and her parents are suing the Marquette County Sheriff for threatening to arrest them over an Instagram post the teen wrote about having COVID-19.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit on the family’s behalf in federal court on Thursday. The lawsuit accuses Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and a patrol sergeant of violating the teen’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Sixteen-year-old Amyiah Cohoon developed a severe respiratory illness in March after a spring break trip to Florida. She was taken to a hospital in Madison after her symptoms worsened and she was tested for COVID-19. The complaint said the test was negative, but doctors told the family that she had most likely contracted the virus but had missed the testing window.

The teen posted a photo of herself on Instagram saying she had COVID-19 and was in quarantine, along with other updates about her experiences. On March 27, according to the complaint, the Marquette County patrol sergeant named in the lawsuit went to the Cohoon’s home and told the teen’s father that the school superintendent had complained to the sheriff about one of the posts.

The sergeant said the sheriff had given him direct orders to have the teen delete the post. If she refused to comply, he was to cite her and her parents for disorderly conduct and “start taking people to jail,” according to the complaint. The sergeant said the sheriff wanted the post removed because there were then no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county. The family removed the posts, and the sergeant left.

WILL then issued a demand letter to Konrath on April 3, requesting an apology and acknowledgment of the family’s First Amendment right. The complaint said the sheriff declined to acknowledge the violation, instead stating the teen’s post was the equivalent of “screaming fire in a crowded movie theater.”

The lawsuit asks for a declaration that the 16-year-old’s First Amendment rights were violated; a declaration that sheriff’s officials may not cite, arrest or threaten the family for exercising their First Amendment rights; an injunction preventing sheriff’s officials from citing, arresting or threatening the family for exercising their First Amendment rights; nominal damages; and such other relief as the court deems proper.

About Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at mpaukner@wislawjournal.com.

One comment

  1. I know the sheriff of this town and I know that he is a absolute crook. And his deputy is full of lies and deceit I hope that the Institute that is suing the sheriff and his deputy come out on top. The sheriff of this town is the worst possible person you could have as a sheriff because it’s who you know Joe. I have seen this man in action and he is a poor excuse for a law enforcement officer much less the sheriff of this town! I hope they get the states attorney general involved in the governor and they do a complete investigation of the entire Sheriff’s Dept which it desperately needs please for the love of God get this man out of office along with a few of his deputies especially Deputy KLUMP. I know the family of the COVID-19 is telling the truth because I’ve dealt with Deputy KLUMP and he is a liar and a deceitful man and that’s exactly the words he would’ve used.

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