A 16-year-old Wisconsin teen was threatened with arrest after posting about having coronavirus symptoms on Instagram. Amyiah Cohoon, a sophomore in high school, didn’t think she would face legal repercussions for sharing a photo wearing an oxygen mask after being hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. Now, her parents are suing the sheriff’s department for violating their daughter’s first amendment rights.
Amyiah Cohoon started experiencing symptoms shortly after returning from a spring break trip to Florida on March 15, where she visited Disney World and Universal Studios. When she developed a cough, high fever and respiratory issues, her mother took her to the emergency room on March 22.
Despite experiencing symptoms typical to coronavirus, Cohoon didn’t meet the testing criteria and was instead sent home untested with an inhaler and self-quarantine orders. A few days later, her condition worsened and she received a test. She tested negative but the lawsuit states that doctors told Cohoon she likely had the virus and missed the window to test positive, the New York Post reports.
Cohoon took to Instagram to share her diagnosis, writing in her caption, “I am still on breathing treatment but have beaten the coronavirus. Stay home and be safe.”
USA Today reports that the teen posted a total of three messages about coronavirus: one saying she wouldn’t be active for a while because she had coronavirus, one saying she might go to the emergency room, and another with her wearing an oxygen mask.
The day after the post went up, Cameron Klump, a patrol sergeant with the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office visited Cohoon’s home. He told Cohoon’s father there were direct orders from Sheriff Joseph Konrath to demand that she delete the post or he would “start taking people to jail” for disorderly conduct, the New York Post reports.
Samuel Hall, attorney for the Sheriff and sheriff’s department, said no one was threatened with arrest and explained the removal orders, Fox News reports.
According to Hall, the girl’s messages “caused distress and panic within the school system and law enforcement acted at the request of school health officials in a good faith effort to avoid unfounded panic.” He compared her Instagram claims to screaming fire into a crowded theatre.
The lawsuit seeks nominal damages and a declaration that the teen’s social media posts were protected free speech. “The First Amendment’s protection of speech, especially online speech, is as vital as ever during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. … This case is about preserving the right to share our experiences with each other during this difficult time,” the lawsuit reads.