ACLU sues officer on behalf of area man

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Editor's note: This story has been edited to clarify the ACLU's position regarding having interest in the First Amendment. The ACLU has, in the past, gotten involved in Second Amendment issues on some occasions, but in this case the ACLU is interested in the First Amendment aspect.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a gun advocate who contends his free-speech rights were violated by a Scott County Sheriff's Department captain, according to an ACLU news release.

The ACLU filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau on behalf of Jordan Klaffer, who is listed as a Southeast Missouri State University student, against Capt. Jerry Bledsoe, who also is chief of the Kelso Police Department.

Bledsoe filed for an order of protection in May in 33rd Judicial Circuit Court in Scott County to bar Klaffer from posting videos of a confrontation during which Bledsoe arrested him for disturbing the peace.

A gun owner, Klaffer "frequently fires his gun at objects on private property," the release stated.

Bledsoe confronted Klaffer on May 1 while responding to a noise complaint at Klaffer's family home, the release said.

"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," the release stated.

According to Case.net online court records, Klaffer pleaded guilty to the peace disturbance charge June 24, 2013, and was fined $125.

Thinking his Second Amendment rights were being violated, Klaffer posted the recordings to several Internet sites, including YouTube and Facebook, the release said. Klaffer also posted a photo of Bledsoe on Instagram alongside a picture of Saddam Hussein, late dictator of Iraq, with the caption "striking resemblance," the release said.

Bledsoe filed a petition in Scott County Circuit Court for an order of protection seeking to have them taken down.

According to court records, the videos were removed.

Klaffer's criminal case "is over, his firearms have been returned and there is no legitimate reason for the continued postings reflecting my name and picture. The postings are nothing but harassment and attempts to destroy my reputation as a police officer," Bledsoe wrote in the petition.

Bledsoe declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, saying he had just heard about it.

In July, the ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Klaffer on First Amendment grounds and said the court should "avoid the constitutional questions by dismissing the petition and vacating the order of July 10, 2013," documents show.

ACLU director of communications Diane Balogh said Klaffer contacted the ACLU about the case.

She said the ACLU believes First Amendment rights were involved, so the not-for-profit organization stepped in.

"The government should never squash down on a person's right to say what they want to say. That's where we feel like Mr. Bledsoe stepped over his [Klaffer's] rights," Balogh said.

Tony Rothert, the ACLU lawyer representing Klaffer, said the order stopping Klaffer from posting items about his encounter with Bledsoe was lifted this summer, but while it was in effect, it was a violation of Klaffer's constitutional rights, and Klaffer was "required" to spend money to hire an attorney to get the order lifted.

"No one has yet addressed the First Amendment violation," Rothert said.

"It's an interesting case, I think, in that it's a very well-established legal principle" that government officials who get court orders that silence speech are in violation of freedom of the press and speech, Rothert said.

If this were a court order trying to stop someone from talking on a street corner or handing out leaflets, Rothert said, it would be less complex. But this case involves a new "town square," the Internet.

"We think that this case is really a good opportunity to take some well-established precedents and bring them into the current century," Rothert said.

He said if there is no response, government will think it is OK to do this in the future.

rcampbell@semissourian.com

388-3639

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