Free Speech

Tennessee Man Arrested for Posting Picture Mocking Dead Police Officer Files First Amendment Lawsuit

Police arrested and charged Joshua Garton with harassment for posting a photoshopped picture of two men urinating on a police officer's grave.

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A Tennessee man is suing state and local law enforcement officials for violating his First Amendment rights after he was arrested and charged with harassment for posting a meme mocking a dead police officer.

Joshua Garton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee alleging malicious prosecution, false arrest, and First Amendment retaliation for his January arrest by the Dickson Police Department.

The Dickson Police Department, following an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), arrested and charged Joshua Garton on January 22 with harassment after Garton posted a picture to Facebook that appeared to show two men urinating on the tombstone of Sgt. Daniel Baker, who was shot and killed on duty in 2018. Garton was held on a $76,000 bond.

Garton's attorney, Nashville civil rights lawyer Daniel Horwitz, said in a statement that the case against Garton was a "despicable and unconstitutional malicious prosecution."

"There are actual consequences for flagrantly violating the First Amendment," Horwitz said. "Unfortunately, taxpayers will have to pay a significant penalty because District Attorney Ray Crouch, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the City of Dickson, and their agents and employees are constitutionally illiterate."

The agency launched the investigation at the request of 23rd District Attorney General Ray Crouch. "Agents subsequently visited Baker's gravesite this morning and determined the photograph was digitally manufactured," a TBI press release on Garton's arrest said.

The picture Garton posted was in fact a doctored photo of the cover of "Pissing on Your Grave," a single by The Rites, which originally depicted two people urinating on the tombstone of punk legend GG Allin.

The First Amendment firmly protects the right to post distasteful, offensive images and words. For example, in 2019 an Iowa man won a lawsuit after he was charged with third-degree harassment for saying online that a sheriff's deputy was a "stupid sum bitch" and "butthurt."

Nevertheless, Garton was interviewed by Dickson police officers, and according to an affidavit, "Garton was told that the image he posted did cause emotional distress to the family of Sgt. Baker as well as the law enforcement officers from Dickson County."

"He has a right to post. That doesn't mean there are no consequences," Dickson Police Captain Donald Arnold wrote in one of several text messages included as exhibits in Garton's lawsuit.

The arrest drew local and national attention, and condemnation from First Amendment experts, who said the post was clearly protected speech. According to other records released in Garton's lawsuit, it also led to a flood of angry callers at all of the agencies involved.

"The trolls will do what trolls do," TBI Director David Rausch wrote in another text. "It appears they and the lawyers forget that there are surviving family members who have rights as well."

A judge dismissed the case against Garton, finding no evidence of harassment.

"That is not good," Rausch texted after the judge's ruling. 

Garton's lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and names Crouch, officials from the TBI, the city of Dickson, and several Dickson police officers as defendants.

The TBI declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

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34 responses to “Tennessee Man Arrested for Posting Picture Mocking Dead Police Officer Files First Amendment Lawsuit

  1. My reaction would be best summed up by what Tyler Broker from Above The Law wrote concerning this in January:
    “What also makes the arrest undeniably worse is that even when Garton inevitably has his arrest dropped, and eventually sues (which he also will), it will be the only truly innocent people in all of this — the taxpayers — who will ultimately be on the hook of accountability. The individuals who are responsible for making this blatantly unconstitutional arrest will frustratingly be shielded from accountability due to the judicially made up doctrine of qualified immunity combined with indemnification.”

    https://abovethelaw.com/2021/01/a-morally-reprehensible-act-is-made-worse-by-a-legally-inexcusable-arrest/

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        1. Mainly for all the stories that have been shared all orally

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    4. …the only truly innocent people in all of this — the taxpayers —

      If the taxpayers don’t like it, they can vote in a city government that will hire cops that respect people’s rights.

  2. Any context as to why he photoshopped said picture? Old grudge? Police officer stole his HS girlfriend?

    Sure the police were wrong to harass him about it. But as a noncitizen of the area, I’m kind of glad they did with the little information provided.

    1. Perhaps the tax hike to fund his settlement will teach the local citizenry not to raise or tolerate such a-holes. It’s just another form of feedback within the system. Everything is working.

    2. It doesn’t remotely matter why he did it. He could post it for any reason or for no reason at all. Free. Speech. And you are absolute trash for being ‘kind of glad’ that armed agents of the state harrassed and arrested an innocent person.

      1. I admire your principled stand! Now lighten up Francis.

        1. And I admire your support of the thin blue line, now stop being an a-hole!

      2. It’s crazy that people don’t understand the implication of the government and its armed agents acting on their personal feelings violating their constitutional oaths and without any authority forcibly detaining a citizen exercising his rights.

    3. Because cops in Tennessee are fascists just like you

    4. Other coverage indicates he reportedly suffers from mental illness. I’m guessing some form of paranoia, but that’s just speculation.

      I’m less concerned about some lone kook doing something assholish on facebook than the police arresting someone for being an asshole on facebook.

  3. “…the petty bureaucrats of tyranny, men who relish the carefully measured meed of power permitted to them, who need to walk in the aura of manufactured fear, to know that the fear precedes them as they enter a room and will linger like a smell after they have left, …” ~ P.D. James

    A.C.A.B.
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    1. And yet you wish to empower the federal government to imprison people for saying the word “nigger” because you’re a cocksucking faggot piece of shit Nazi, shreek. Go fuck yourself with a running chainsaw you pathetic fucking pile of cunt pus.

      1. …the only truly innocent people in all of this — the taxpayers —

        If the taxpayers don’t like it, they can vote in a city government that will hire cops that respect people’s rights.

  4. Another social media user bites the dust. Who would have imagined it.

  5. “cause emotional distress to the law enforcement officers from Dickson County.”

    What a bunch of pussies!

    1. They probably aren’t pussies. It’s just an excuse to oppress people.

  6. Was he wearing a mask when he posted? And has he been vaccinated?

  7. “”He has a right to post. That doesn’t mean there are no consequences,” Dickson Police Captain Donald Arnold wrote….”

    From the state? Wrong, no consequences is exactly what it means.

    “TBI Director David Rausch wrote in another text. “It appears they and the lawyers forget that there are surviving family members who have rights as well.”

    It appears TBI Director David Rausch forgot those surviving family members’ rights to feelings do not trump constitutional rights. Typical pig. Them use the same BS when harassing 1st amendment auditors.

  8. Remember when the federal government arrested a guy for posting memes?
    Reason sure as hell doesn’t.

    1. Too local.

  9. I think my owe point of view here is Sure the police were wrong to harass him about it. But as a noncitizen of the area, I’m kind of glad
    https://wapexclusive.com ,they did with the little information provided.

  10. “He has a right to post. That doesn’t mean there are no consequences,” Dickson Police Captain Donald Arnold wrote

    “Rights have consequences.”

  11. A judge ordered him held on bond?

  12. Goose, gander. Maybe those micro aggressions against cops will do some cancelling too.

  13. This arrest and charge are obviously, blatantly unconstitutional. To the level that a ten year old with a very basic civics education could recognize it as such.

    Judges need to start applying punitive damages in such cases. It is simply inconceivable that the police didn’t know they were violating the person’s constitutional rights.

    If the locals had their property taxes increased by 10% to pay for this, then they might, just might, start taking an interest in who they elect to run their cities, and in ensuring accountability for their local yahoo-dominated police force.

  14. Everyone involved in this situation is an idiot.

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