David Jones, 47, is facing felony charges for posts he allegedly made on his Facebook page against local public officials. In what may be a violation of his First Amendment rights, Jones is being held for posting his opinions online.
In June 2014, Jones allegedly posted the addresses of a state delegate's home with encouragement for "criminals and crackheads" to go there to "terrorize and take personal effects," according to the charge filed by a state trooper.
Jones also allegedly posted a photo of the delegate's house, saying, "Please go to this address and do everything you have done to terrorize other citizens of Hancock County. Help yourself to his stuff. Obviously he does not care. Camp out in woods and stay as long as you like," the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
The local political activists maintains he was using the posts to try to expose corruption. In July 2014, Jones encouraged heroin users to "trash [the] place" of a judge with whose interaction with juveniles addicted to heroin Jones disagreed.
The state American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has risen to the defense of Jones, calling his posts "political hyperbole."
In a separate criminal charge for making terroristic threats that was dismissed, Jones allegedly threatened to shoot law enforcement officers. This post was made in response to news of a single-car accident in which a police officer was said to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
ACLU attorney Jamie Crofts claims Jones' writing respond to local government corruption. "First Amendment jurisprudence requires careful considerations of the actual circumstances surrounding the speech," Crofts said in an ACLU press release.
FIRST AMENDMENT VIOLATION
West Virginia Delegate Pat McGeehan thinks Jones should be released "with the court's deepest apology," he told WTOV9 in a July phone interview.
"Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court—the highest court in the land—ruled eight to one that Facebook and social media rants and speech and language, even if it's cruel and malicious, is protected free speech under the First Amendment so they have no ground to hold this man in jail any longer," McGeehan said.
McGeehan's point is what Jones wrote doesn't break a law and can't be tied to any criminal activity. He shouldn't be tried for something that is free speech, he says.
His attorney Philip Sbrolla pointed out Jones was retired from the Air Force and had no criminal history.
Because of the nature of the case, the Hancock County judges recused themselves, and Special Magistrate David McLaughlin of Marshall County was appointed. McLaughlin sent the case to a grand jury; Jones has appealed to the state supreme court to intervene.
"There was no danger of Mr. Jones's posts inciting illegal activity, and the state has made no arguments that any illegal activity occurred as a result of the posts," Crofts said.
SOCIAL MEDIA SUPPORT
The First Amendment protects speech that is unpopular, rude, or in "bad taste." The position of the ACLU is that Jones' posts are free speech.
A Facebook page called "The REAL Weirton-Steubenville News -What the Papers wont [sic] report" posted a response to the Gazette-Mail's article. It claims Jones' initial charges were retaliation for his protest about the officer who "wrecked a public vehicle while drinking, fled the scene, with witnesses, was never sobriety tested, per the press reports" and was related to Jones' arresting officer.
"Uninhibited speech on matters of public concern must be encouraged in a free society," Crofts added. "And, speech on matters of public concern is entitled to the highest constitutional protections. We cannot criminally prosecute people because what they say may be upsetting."
The REAL Weirton-Steubenveille News also discusses the nature of Jones' posts by giving his post a context: objection to corrupt law enforcement. "If anything happens to my [girls]...bullet in the head," the post says Jones wrote, claiming Jones' words were a warning, not a threat.
The Facebook page stringently objects to Jones' arrest, which it attributes to his complaint about law enforcement officers' failure to do their duty. "Are they using the law against him, a Veteran, for their purposes and protection?" the nameless writer asks.
This article was originally published in Christian Examiner.