Damages Awarded After Arrest Over Facebook Joke

(USNewsMag.com) – A federal jury awarded Waylon Bailey $205,000 in punitive and compensatory damages from the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, who the jury determined had violated his constitutional rights when he was arrested in March 2020.

Bailey was arrested at his home in Forest Hill, Louisiana, by a team of officers from the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, dressed in tactical gear, for a zombie-themed joke about the pandemic he had posted on Facebook. The post referenced the movie “World War Z” and the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, saying the order was issued to “shoot on sight” if deputies came in contact with someone infected by the virus. The post included the hashtag #weneedyoubradpitt, referring to the star of the movie, Brad Pitt. The sheriff’s office then began an investigation into the post, which they said was “an attempt to get someone hurt.” Though Bailey apologized to the responding deputies and took the post down, he was still arrested and charged with one count of terrorizing.

The charges were ultimately dropped after the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute him. Bailey then sued the department and the deputy who arrested him for violation of his constitutional rights and for making a false arrest. However, a federal court granted qualified immunity to the deputy and dismissed the lawsuit. Bailey appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the dismissal in a unanimous decision. The 5th Circuit panel ruled that Bailey’s speech was protected under the First Amendment. In the ruling, Judge Dana M. Douglas wrote that the lower court had applied the wrong legal standard. Douglas wrote that Bailey’s post “did not advocate ‘lawless’ and ‘imminent’ action,” adding that such actions were not likely to result from the post as it “was clearly intended to be a joke.” This allowed a jury to hear the case and rule on damages.

In response to the ruling, Bailey said he feels “vindicated” knowing a jury agreed that his Facebook post “was satire” and not something he should have been arrested for.

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