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The First Amendment Protects Social-Media Speculation About Bear Killers

"Words must do more than offend, cause indignation, or anger" to be illegal, says judge in bear-hunter harassment case.

Splash News/NewscomSplash News/Newscom"Words must do more than offend, cause indignation, or anger the addressee to lose the protection of the First Amendment," a municipal judge reminded us this week in a case involving social media, bow hunting, and a bear called "Pretty Mama."

On trial was Susan Kehoe, an animal rights activist in New Jersey who faced a harassment charge and a possible 30 days in jail.

Under New Jersey law, someone commits criminal harasssment by engaging in a "course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person."

Last October, Kehoe called out two men as the potential culprits in the death of Pretty Mama, based on a video someone had recorded of the bear being dragged from the woods. In a public Facebook post, Kehoe wrote that she "believed" Michael Bush and Nickey Pisco were the killers and linked to their Facebook profiles.

Bush and Pisco reported Kehoe to the Vernon Township Police for harassment, but the police declined to press charges. The men then filed a citizen's complaint, saying they had received death threats as a result of Kehoe's post and Bush had suffered a loss to his business.

Bush initially alleged that Kehoe had posted his home address, but this was later revealed as false. Kehoe had simply linked to his Facebook page, where Bush himself had publicly posted his address.

Still, prosecutor Lisa Thompson argued to the court that Kehoe's speech went beyond permittable free-speech parameters. "There is a not a First Amendment right to incite your followers to cause annoyance and alarm and death threats," she told the court in July.

Bush testified in court that he received threats through direct messages, public Facebook posts, and comments on his business' Facebook page. But none of the threats came from Kehoe directly, nor had she urged people to threaten Bush and Pisco.

On Monday, Mount Olive Municipal Court Judge Brian J. Levine found Kehoe not guilty, citing a 2016 case in which a state appellate court overturned a harassment conviction.

In that case, a former Union County corrections officer was convicted on two counts of harassment "based upon his creation of two 'flyers' that contained the wedding photo of a fellow Union County corrections officer (the Sergeant), which was altered to include vulgar handwritten comments in speech bubbles." But the appellate court reversed the conviction, holding that "the commentary defendant added to the Sergeant's wedding photograph was constitutionally protected speech."

Kehoe's attorney, Daniel Perez, said the judge's ruling in her case "shows that the First Amendment matters."

Photo Credit: Splash News/Newscom

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  • Tom Bombadil||

    First they came for the bear murderers, and I said nothing....

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Then they came for the bear fuckers...

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "Nickey Pisco" is the most New Jerseyish name it is possible for a guy to have.

  • colorblindkid||

    There are too many fucking bears in New Jersey. They are probably more densely populated than they were before humans were here. The bear hunt is necessary.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, I don't have a lot of patience for ignorant, anti-hunting people.

  • colorblindkid||

    Properly regulated trophy hunting is one of the greatest tools for conservation, especially in Africa. People just let their stupid feelings get in the way of realistic solutions to problems.

  • colorblindkid||

    The entire conservation movement was founded by hunters.

  • CE||

    Just ask the woolly mammoth....

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Okay, but give the bears a chance to thin out the guido population a little bit first.

  • colorblindkid||

    Not enough bears down the shore for that to be effective, although I support the intent.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Jersey bears could learn some beachgoing tips from Virginia Beach bears.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Did that "bear" throw orange slices at you?

  • Dan S.||

    Hmm. Posted 20 minutes before Cynical Asshole's mention of an actual fucking bear.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Under New Jersey law, someone commits criminal harasssment by engaging in a "course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person."

    Gee, that's not ridiculously vague or overly broad at all. No potential for abuse there. /sarc

  • sharmota4zeb||

    New Jersey law recognizes third party harassment in domestic violence cases. Telling your new boyfriend to take care of your old boyfriend is a crime here. I guess there is less protection for strangers.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Did they kill the bear? Sounds like that alone wasn't certain.

  • Gozer the Gozarian||

    Based on the judge's ruling, does this mean that although what she did was overwhelming evidence of violating NJ's harassment laws, that since she didn't get convicted that NJ's harassment laws are unconstitutional?

    Sorry about the shitty grammar. I'm too damn lazy to fix it.

  • CE||

    Seems like the former. She just unleashed the mob, she didn't tell them what to do.

  • Gozer the Gozarian||

    Oh, and Susan Kehoe is a fucking cunt that deserves to get a tour of a woodchipper. Google her name and see how batshit crazy she is. Her YouTube videos are a testament is fucking insanity, delusion, and WTF? moments.

  • Mickey Rat||

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander, then.

  • CE||

    Kehoe wrote that she "believed" Michael Bush and Nickey Pisco were the killers successful hunters and linked to their Facebook profiles.

    FTFY

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Okay, I think it's time someone gave you "the talk" about how hunting works.

    So, remember that farm up north your mom told you all the deer and bears go to? Yeah, about that...

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