Teen Files Lawsuit After Sheriff Threatens Family with Arrest Over COVID-19 Instagram Post


A Wisconsin teen is suing her county’s sheriff after she says a law enforcement officer pressured her to delete a social media post alerting people that she had the coronavirus, going so far as to threaten to arrest her.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday that Amyiah Cohoon, a high school sophomore in Marquette County, filed a lawsuit alleging she was coerced into deleting Instagram posts about her COVID-19 recovery.

The 16-year-old Cohoon reportedly went on a spring break trip to Florida with her school’s marching band in March along with her family, but the family decided to cut their trip short and return home over fears about the spread of the coronavirus.

According to the Journal Sentinel, Cohoon showed symptoms of the virus upon returning and was advised to self-quarantine and recover from home after she tested negative but was presumed to be positive with COVID-19 by health care workers.

The teen posted about her belief she had the illness on Instagram — and said she received a visit from the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office not long after making it public.

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The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit legal assistance group, is helping Cohoon with her lawsuit, which accuses Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and Patrol Sgt. Cameron Klump of violating the teen’s civil liberties by forcing her to delete a post under the threat of arrest.

“Rick and Angela Cohoon’s teen daughter Amyiah developed a severe respiratory illness in March after a spring break trip to Florida. After one visit to a local hospital, her symptoms worsened and she ended up at a hospital in Madison,” WILL wrote in a brief about the lawsuit.

“Amyiah tested negative for COVID-19 in Madison, but doctors told her that she likely had the virus but had missed the testing window,” WILL added. “Amyiah posted updates to Instagram about this experience, including a post after she returned from the hospital that she had ‘beaten the coronavirus.'”

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WILL said that on March 27, Klump visited the Cohoon home and threatened to begin making arrests for disorderly conduct if the post in question was not deleted.

In the lawsuit, Cohoon and WILL allege that the visit from the sergeant was initiated after an official at Cohoon’s school district complained to the sheriff about one of the social media posts.

“Hey guys… sorry I’ve been on a long break.. I wont be back for a while longer due to me no[w] having the COVID-19 virus… I don’t want the attention its just the truth… I am now in self quarantine and am not allow[e]d to leave my room and have an inhaler since they said to go home… best of wishes. love you guys,” the teen posted on Instagram.

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In another post showing Cohoon in the hospital, the teen wrote, “I am finally home after being hospitalized for a day and a half. I am still on breathing treatment but have beaten the coronavirus. Stay home and be safe.”

Cohoon chose to delete both social media posts.

According to the lawsuit, Klump wrote in an incident report that he demanded a post be deleted and made the threat of arrest while acting on orders from Konrath.

He further stated the sheriff wanted one of the posts taken down because “there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county at that time,” the lawsuit states.

School officials, before the incident with law enforcement, sent out a letter, presumably about Cohoon, that accused a student of attempting to get attention by claiming a coronavirus diagnosis, according to the teen’s family.

“It was brought to my attention today that there was a rumor floating out there that one of our students contracted Covid-19 while on the band trip to Florida two weeks ago. Let me assure you there is NO truth to this. This was a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed,” the correspondence sent to parents from a school official read, as documented in the lawsuit.

WILL said it requested an apology from Konrath and an acknowledgment of the family’s constitutional rights before filing the lawsuit.

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“WILL issued a demand letter to Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath on April 3, requesting an apology and acknowledgement that the Cohoons have a First Amendment right to freely express themselves on social media. Sheriff Konrath has not met either demand,” the nonprofit group wrote.

Cohoon and WILL accuse the sheriff of violating the teen’s First and 14th Amendment rights in the lawsuit, which asks a federal court for constitutional protection from the sheriff in addition to “nominal damages” and other unspecified relief.

“There are no circumstances that would allow law enforcement to police social media in this way,” deputy counsel Luke Berg said in a statement. “At a moment when civil liberties need to be guarded most, the Marquette County Sheriff must be held accountable.”

Sam Hall, an attorney for Konrath, said Cohoon’s Instagram posts “caused distress and panic” among the parents of other students, according to the Journal Sentinel.

“This case is nothing more than a 2020 version of screaming fire in a crowded theater,” Hall said, adding that he plans “to mount an aggressive defense to this lawsuit.”

“It is unfortunate that the plaintiff brings this lawsuit now, while law enforcement should be able to focus solely on the public health crisis that we currently face,” he said.

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.