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Deputy threatens to arrest girl for saying on Instagram she had COVID-19

Empower Wisconsin | April 6, 2020

An Oxford, Wis. girl who doctors say more than likely contracted the coronavirus was threatened with arrest if she didn’t remove her Instagram post about her struggles with the disease, according to the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).

WILL says it sent letters to Marquette County Sheriff Joseph Konrath and Westfield School District Administrator Robert Meicher demanding an apology for their alleged violations of Amyiah Cohoon’s First Amendment rights. The Milwaukee-based public interest law firm is representing the girl and her parents, Rick and Angela Cohoon.

A Marquette County Sheriff’s deputy on March 27 threatened to cite or jail Amyiah or her parents if she did not remove the social network post indicating she was recovering from COVID-19, according to WILL.

Amyiah developed a severe respiratory illness in March after a spring break trip to Florida, the press release noted. Doctors at Divine Savior Hospital in Portage indicated to the Cohoons that their daughter likely had COVID-19 but could not be tested due to the testing criteria at the time.

She was sent home with instructions to strictly self-quarantine but ended up in the hospital three days later after symptoms worsened. She tested negative for COVID-19 in Madison, but doctors suggested she likely had the virus but had missed the testing window, according to WILL.

While in the hospital, Amyiah posted to Instagram that she was recovering from COVID-19.

“Westfield School District officials then swung into action to tell district parents that Amyiah was not telling the truth about her COVID-19 experience and complained to the Marquette County Sheriff,” WILL’s press release stated.  

On March 27, a Marquette County Sheriff patrol sergeant was dispatched to the Cohoons’ home to demand the Instagram post be removed or face arrest for disorderly conduct. The Instagram posts were removed after the threat from law enforcement.

Meicher, the school district’s administrator, included a section in his March 27 update describing the girl’s post as a “foolish means to get attention.”

“It was brought to my attention today that there was a rumor floating out there that one of our students contracted Covid-19 while on the band trip to Florida two weeks ago. Let me assure you there is NO truth to this. This was a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed. This rumor had caught the attention of our Public Health Department and she was involved in putting a stop to this nonsense. In times like this, the last thing we need out there is misinformation,’ the administrator wrote.

Attempts to reach Meicher were not successful.

WILL’s demand letters require three specific actions to avoid a lawsuit:

  1. A written apology.
  2. Acknowledgment that the Cohoons have a First Amendment right to freely express themselves on social media, including the post they removed under threat.
  3. The Westfield School District remove a March 27 news update on the incident.

“School district officials and law enforcement used a public health emergency to overreact and violate the First Amendment rights of the Cohoons, WILL Deputy Counsel Luke Berg said. “During this unprecedented and challenging time, government officials cannot be allowed to trample civil liberties without the clearest justification.”

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