Jackson, MO – A social media user who was arrested by Jackson police after he posted a “joke” comment about opening fire on a kindergarten classroom will receive an $80,000 settlement from the city, his attorney announced on Friday.
Cape Girardeau resident James Robert Ross filed the federal lawsuit in June of 2015, alleging that Jackson police violated his constitutional rights to free speech, the Southeast Missourian reported.
“You do not have to approve of what Mr. Ross said, but law enforcement officers cannot make arrests first and ask questions later when it comes to the First Amendment,” his attorney, Gordon Glaus, told the paper.
The incident began on Jan. 25, 2015, when one of Ross’ Facebook friends made a pro-Second Amendment post that showed images of various firearms and their corresponding uses.
The image was titled, “Why I need a gun,” according to the Southeast Missourian.
“This one I for self-defense against enemies, foreign & domestic, for preservation of freedom & liberty, and to prevent government atrocities,” a caption next to an AK-47 rifle read, according to the Riverfront Times.
Ross, who supports restrictive gun laws, posted a comment in response to the image.
“Which one do I need to shoot up a kindergarten?” he wrote.
The cousin of the person who posted the original image took a screenshot of Ross’ comment, and passed it on to Jackson Police Officer Ryan Medlin, the Southeast Missourian reported.
Officer Medlin forwarded the screenshot to Jackson Police Officers Toby Freeman and Anthony Hansen, who arrested Ross at work on Jan. 26, 2015.
When questioned, Ross told police that the post, which has since been deleted, was “meant to be a joke,” according to court documents.
Ross was subsequently served with a warrant for “peace disturbance,” and remained incarcerated for several days until he was able to post bond.
Months later, the charge was dismissed by a Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecutor, the Riverfront Times reported.
In the lawsuit, Ross argued that he “considered himself to be a pacifist and that he supported gun control because gun control would prevent massacres.”
“He also stated that his comment was not intended to convey a threat but to make a political statement,” the lawsuit read.
In January of 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie White ruled in favor of Jackson police, and concluded they were protected by qualified immunity because they “could reasonably believe at the time of arrest that plaintiff was threatening to shoot up an area kindergarten,” the Southeast Missourian reported.
Ross appealed the decision, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity in the case.
The appeals court then remanded the case back to the federal district court in Cape Girardeau.
Glaus said Ross agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in exchange for the $80,000 financial settlement.
As part of the agreement, the three police officers and the City of Jackson “did not admit fault and continue to deny liability,” Glaus noted.
Jackson City Attorney Tom Ludwig refused to comment on the settlement, and said it was being handled by the city’s insurance company.
“We are very pleased to reach a favorable outcome for our client as well as the First Amendment,” Glaus said.