Former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke Did Not Silence a Man Through Facebook Posts, Court Finds

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke leaves Trump Tower on November 28, 2016, in New York. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke, an ally of President Donald Trump, did not violate a man's free speech after being accused of taunting and harassing him on Facebook, a federal jury said Monday night.

In 2016, Clarke detained Daniel Black at an airport after he shook his head at the sheriff. Black says he shook his head at Clarke while boarding a flight last January because Clarke was wearing Dallas Cowboys gear when they were playing the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.

After Black filed a formal complaint about the detention, Clarke posted two messages on the agency's Facebook page, calling him a "snowflake" and saying Black "wouldn't be around to whine" if Clarke really wanted to harass him.

In a lawsuit, Black claimed the postings were threatening and intimidating, and made him fearful to speak out against and seek redress from public officials, something he considered an infringement of free speech.

After deliberating for three hours, jurors found that Clarke did not infringe on Black's freedom of speech rights by making the postings.

Black's attorney, Anne T. Sulton, had asked jurors to impose punitive damages because Clarke "believes he's unaccountable, above the law," reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"I felt guilty, I felt scared, that I had a target on my back," Black testified, as quoted by the Associated Press, recalling a post on the sheriff's official Facebook site.

In his closing, defense attorney Charles Bohl argued that Black and Clarke had a simple "internet spat" with no civil rights implications, according to the Sentinel. He said Black was the first to mention the airport detention on social media, had mocked Clarke on social media and seemed unperturbed in TV interviews in which he described his encounter with Clarke.

"Did the posts chill his exercise of his First Amendment rights?" Bohl asked. "It's a resounding no. He exercised those rights abundantly."

Black did not attend Monday's court hearing.

Although he is no longer a sheriff, Milwaukee County paid Clarkes' legal bills and would have been liable had the court found in Black's favor.

Clarke is an outspoken backer of President Trump, with Trump in turn praising Clarke's hardline approach to policing.