Florida Appellate Court Strikes Order Barring Man From Criticizing Police Officer On The Internet

Unknown-1A Florida Appellate Court has ruled in favor of Patrick Neptune, a man who was barred under a clearly unconstitutional ruling from criticizing a local police officer on the Internet. Neptune accused Miramar Police Department Officer Philip Lanoue of first cutting him off in traffic and then following him home and giving him a ticket. After Lanoue sought a stalking injunction, a court issued an order including a bar on his criticizing the officer on the Internet.

Here is how the court explained the background:

The Officer is a police officer for a city police department in Florida. Appellant alleges that the Officer “cut him off” in traffic, so Appellant followed the Officer into the neighborhood in which they both lived and scolded him for his driving. According to Appellant, the Officer then stopped Appellant from leaving the area and wrote him a ticket for failing to wear a seatbelt, an allegation Appellant staunchly denies. Appellant claims the Officer later informed Appellant’s parents of the incident.

Appellant subsequently sent several letters to the Officer’s Chief and several other public officials, complaining about his mistreatment by the Officer. Appellant sent at least three letters to the Officer’s home address. Appellant also posted the Officer’s picture on a “copblock” website with a complaint about the incident.
This conduct led the Officer to seek an injunction against stalking directed toward Appellant. A final injunction was issued prohibiting Appellant from coming within 500 feet of the Officer’s residence, from posting anything on the Internet regarding the Officer, and from defacing or destroying the Officer’s personal property.

Neptune is an African-American man over 55 who says that he is a disabled veteran. He appeared pro se in this appeal. He posted a statement on the site Copblock.

What is truly bizarre is that Neptune says that Lanoue’s parents called his parents, who are 92 and 80, to “harass them” about two hours after the first incident. Neptune alleged Lanoue also called his parents, “harassing, yelling and screaming.” Neptune proceeded to file his complaint with the department and others.

The only substantive Internet statement was on a site dedicated to policing police. Such publications are common on the Internet. Indeed, this site has often published the pictures and names of accused officers. To bar any criticism on the Internet raises core constitutional problems that the trial judge should have seen and avoided. Yet, Broward Circuit Judge Richard Eade agreed to Lanoue’s request for the injunction that included barring Neptune exercise of free speech on the Internet. It was failure of Eade that raises serious concerns over his judgment. Under this logic, a wide array of critics of alleged police abuse could be muzzled by injunctions from criticizing public officials.

The appellate court held:

The First Amendment protects Appellant’s right to criticize public officials such as the Officer. “The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.” City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 462–63 (1987). The injunction issued by the trial court is impermissibly broad and, insofar as it states “the Respondent shall not ‘post’ on the Internet regarding the Petitioner,” in violation of Appellant’s First Amendment right to free speech. The injunction paints with unduly broad strokes on a very large canvas, and goes far beyond enjoining Appellant’s cyberstalking of the Officer. As such, the injunction must be reformulated and narrowly tailored in order to more properly balance the desire to protect the Officer from harassment and stalking with the need to safeguard Appellant’s First Amendment rights.

I am not sure how such an order would be tailored to bar any criticism of the officer for his conduct in the case. Lanoue may be proven to be entirely in the right. However, as a public officer, he is subject to public scrutiny and public criticism. That does not mean that the rest of the injunction is invalid and the appellate court upheld those other restrictions, such as going to the officer’s house. However, the effort to silence Neptune’s writings on the Internet about the incident or the officer is beyond the pale for the First Amendment.

19 thoughts on “Florida Appellate Court Strikes Order Barring Man From Criticizing Police Officer On The Internet”

  1. Greeting Earthlings!! I come from Neptune. The incident happened in the city of miramar, Fl western Ft. Lauderdale. I am a 58 year old African- American male, and a disabled vet. The officers mother called 3 times on the day of the incident. The phone calls were not funny. I filed a IA complaint against the officer, and 3 days later, 3 officers with guns drawn showed up at our house. The stress from the situation put both my mother and myself in the hospital

    1. Thanks for that one Karen. It is about time folks in Texas get a good cop who knows his dogs and his job and DOES IT! I am in Arlington right now, and I feel safer already since I know I won’t be shot by some over zealous cop since it is obvious they reward good cops with promotions.

  2. randyjet,
    I just complimented you for what appeared to be a reasonable post on another thread. For what it’s worth, you have now been redeemed.

  3. I will bet that judge is a good old GOP boy. This kind of crap is the usual fare in conservative circles.

  4. Great article, I just wish that the Board of Nursing of AZ , will figure it out they cant punish nurses for posting against their underhanded misguided ways . NO pattern of fairness, just a pattern if you go against them .
    Public office , public criticism. The way it should be.

  5. I agree with Professor Turley. The injunction should be limited to prevent Neptune from approaching the officer’s house, or publishing its address. He still has his right to free speech to criticize the officer.

    I wonder if this occurred in a small town. It made me chuckle to hear the elderly parents got involved.

  6. All dogs in that neighborhood will already know where to poop. I am referring to the cop’s neighborhood. We dogs give humans guidance. Humans should follow suit. Or drive by and throw turds. Preferably human turds.

  7. The 1st Amendment is under assault. How are all those anti-defamation laws working in Europe??

  8. Paul: great point. The court has given Neptune permission (even ordered him) to flee if approached by Lanoue.

    But we know that some are more equal than others; Lanoue obviously falls into this category in the eyes of Judge Richard Eade.

  9. How does one stay 500 feet from a police officer? Does this mean the guy cannot give him a ticket again?

  10. Jonathan:

    On June 16, 2011, I learned that I was placed on a “government watch list” for following 18 USC 4 and reporting public corruption and government crime, all conduct reported was verified by the FBI and the DOJ.

    If you would like details, please advise.

    Thanks for your good work.

Comments are closed.