In Louisiana in March 2020, a cavalcade of heavily armored sheriff’s deputies descended upon the home of Waylon Bailey.
Arrested under the intimidation of guns, Bailey was subjected to what looked like a militarized raid often reserved for violent offenders. But Bailey’s alleged “crime” was simply a post he made on Facebook.
The arrest was all because of a seemingly harmless jab at the pandemic he made on Facebook, a joke that compared COVID-19 to a zombie apocalypse.
This arrest landed Bailey with a felony charge and him staring at a possible 15-year imprisonment before he won his case.
A federal jury was cognizant of the unwarranted trauma inflicted on Bailey and responded by awarding him $205,000 in compensation for this wrongful arrest.
The case, which was presented by the Institute for Justice, played a significant role in the jury siding with Bailey.
The onset of the pandemic was a turbulent time; in the spur of the moment, Bailey attempted to lighten the gravity of the situation with a playful Facebook post. Jokingly comparing the onset of the Covid pandemic to a zombie apocalypse, Bailey satirically claimed that anyone found infected should be shot at sight. Unfortunately, local officials interpreted this humor as a call for violence, which led to Bailey’s subsequent arrest.
Despite Bailey indicating that his post was thoroughly humorous and devoid of ill intentions, Detective Randell Iles, who helmed the investigation, was uncompromising. Iles went on to label Bailey a terrorist based on his jestful post, sparking outrage over the inquiry’s legitimacy given its clear infringement on constitutionally protected speech.
In a press statement, Bailey commented on his wrongful arrest and his attorney expressed the importance of the First Amendment’s free speech rights.
“I feel vindicated that the jury agreed that my post was satire and that no reasonable police officer should have arrested me for my speech,” said Waylon Bailey. “This verdict is a clear signal that the government can’t just arrest someone because the officers didn’t like what they said. I’d like to thank my lawyers for their hard work and determination.”
“It is telling that it took less than two hours for a jury of Mr. Bailey’s peers in Western Louisiana to rule in his favor on all issues,” said Andrew Bizer, Bailey’s attorney. “The jury clearly understood that the Facebook post was Constitutionally protected speech. The jury’s award of significant damages shows that they understood how Mr. Bailey’s world was turned upside down when the police wrongly branded him a terrorist. We are delighted with this result.”
“Our First Amendment rights aren’t worth anything if courts won’t hold the government responsible for violating them,” said IJ Attorney Ben Field. “We are proud to have played a key part in ensuring that Waylon Bailey got justice at the appellate court after he was unconstitutionally arrested for his speech. His case now stands as a warning for government officials and as a precedent that others can use to defend their rights.”
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