Waylon Bailey has been waiting more than three years for a resolution in a case that sparked nationwide shock. On Friday, his persistence finally paid off.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Bailey’s Facebook post joking that Louisiana’s Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office had declared a “shoot on sight” order for those infected with the coronavirus- was protected speech under the First Amendment. The court also ruled Bailey can continue to pursue legal action against the Sheriff’s office employees who arrested him.
“Even if the post were taken seriously, it is too general and contingent to be a specific threat,” the judges wrote.
Bailey said he was “floating” when he heard the news. “It just [reassured me about] all of the thoughts and stuff I had these past three years about if I’m overreacting, if it’s even worth it,” he said.
It began on March 20, 2020, shortly after the nation’s Covid-19 pandemic began. Finding humor in the dire times, Bailey created a post comparing the virus to the zombie apocalypse from World War Z, starring Brad Pitt.
“SHARE SHARE SHARE ! ! ! !… JUST IN: RAPIDES PARISH SHERIFFS OFFICE HAVE ISSUED THE ORDER, IF DEPUTIES COME INTO CONTACT WITH ‘THE INFECTED’ SHOOT ON SIGHT….” Bailey wrote.
Just hours after posting, more than a dozen SWAT team members from the Sheriff’s office showed up at his Alexandria home with weapons and bulletproof vests. They arrested him without a warrant for making a terroristic threat. Bailey was later released on a $1,200 bond.
In September 2020, he sued Detective Randell Iles and Sheriff Mark Wood for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights. Last July, Bailey’s claims were dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge who argued Bailey’s arrest was warranted.
On Friday, however, the appellate judges declared the post was not a threat and did not incite violence.
Not only did they rule Iles violated Bailey’s First Amendment rights, but they also determined that the detective was not protected by qualified immunity- a doctrine that shields government officials from legal liability.
Bailey is now elated but is still seeking monetary damages, attorney fees, and an apology from the Sheriff’s office. “It’s a great victory for Waylon and for the Constitution,” said Ben Field, Bailey’s attorney. “It clearly lays out that police have to respect First Amendment rights online and that they can’t wantonly arrest people who make jokes about them.”