Judge Forbids Facebook Users Being Sued By A Cop From Publishing The Cop's Name On Social Media

from the [insert-Big-Lebowski-quote] dept

Eugene Volokh reports an Ohio court has hit a number of defendants in a libel lawsuit with an unconstitutional order forbidding them from posting the name of the man suing them. It's no ordinary man, though. It's a police officer who several attendees of a Cincinnati city council meeting have both identified and claimed used a racist hand sign while interacting with them.

A veteran Cincinnati police officer sued several citizens in early July, accusing them of defamation in a closely watched case that could be the beginning of a trend of police officers going after critics in court.

Several citizens accused the officer of possibly being associated with white supremacy or of being racist after spotting a video and picture of him allegedly flashing the “ok” sign at a City Council meeting in June – a meeting held to address concerns by those in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

They posted about it on Facebook and other online forums, leading the officer to file his lawsuit.

Nothing all that unusual about this. Someone with pretty thin skin was offended that other people said mean things about him and decided to sue about it. That the plaintiff is a police officer is a little different, but not unheard of. That the police officer talked a judge into allowing him to file pseudonymously and place his affidavit under seal is a bit stranger. From there, it just gets stranger and more unconstitutional

This is from Volokh:

I've also learned that the judge has issued a temporary restraining order—without any participation on the defendants' part—ordering them not to "publiciz[e], through social media or other channels, Plaintiff's personal identifying information." The order doesn't define "personal identifying information," but the only Ohio statute that does define term (the identity fraud statute) defines it to include a person's "name."

Thus, the bloggers are banned from mentioning the police officer at all. They aren't just banned from libeling him; even a post conveying accurate information, or expressing an opinion, about the police officer is forbidden, if it mentions the officer's name.

This order [PDF] only targets future posts. That's some prior restraint right there. And while the judge may have meant no one can publish anything like the cop's home address or personal phone number, the lack of specificity allows it to be read as banning the use of the officer's name.

Not that it's all that difficult to figure out who this officer is. Multiple attendees (who are now defendants in this lawsuit) posted the officer's name online and linked to what appears to be the officer's Facebook account. Searching through the defendants' social media profiles brings up the posts referring to the officer by name.

The officer's Facebook page has had all of its posts deleted. The header image has been replaced with this, which appears to be a direct response to those accusing him of flashing the "ok" sign at the city council meeting.

Officer Ryan Olthaus -- who was involved in the controversial killing of Dontez O'Neal in 2012 -- goes by the name "Michael Ryan" on his Facebook page. The pseudonym being used in the lawsuit against these social media users is "M.R."

That all seems to add up to Officer Pseudonym. His lawyer seems to feel the current, possibly unconstitutional order doesn't go far enough, though. The officer would also like to see the defendants forced to remove any previous posts about him. His attorney argues the posts are libelous because [checks filing] they were made by people who don't like cops.

Defendants posted these statements on their social media platforms, accusing Plaintiff of being a white supremacist in a climate of severe hostility toward police officers. Further, at least one Defendant threatened to dox Plaintiff -- to reveal his personal identifying information online -- seemingly for sport. Other posts include, “Fuck SWAT,” “Fuck 12,” “ACAB”, “1312” and many similar statements evidencing the Defendants’ hatred and malice toward the police, including the Plaintiff.

The court hasn't ruled that any of the posts being sued over are actually libelous. So, at this point, the officer has no legal basis to demand their removal. The officer has already been granted one broad restriction on the posting of his personal information (which includes his name) by the suit's defendants. Now, he wants to go even further. And he wants to do it while keeping his name from being tied to his dubious litigation.

Eugene Volokh (along with the Cincinnati Enquirer) are asking the judge to unseal the documents. And hopefully the defendants will challenge the restraining order and make the court rethink (or perhaps consider thoughtfully for the first time) its blanket ban on publishing this officer's personal information.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, cincinnati, criticism, defamation, free speech, ohio, police, prior restraint, ryan olthaus


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2020 @ 4:46am

    Take a look at the judge.

    If a judge is siding with a murdering white supremacist cop, perhaps he too puts on white robes and hates people with skin darker than his own. Investigate the whole city leadership if this is really the case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Annonymouse, 18 Aug 2020 @ 4:56am

      Re: Take a look at the judge.

      Beat me too it.
      Why is it so surprising that a judge is a supremacist?
      Why twist yourself into knots making weak excuses for judges just like it is for cops?
      Why no background social media check on the judge?

      Cops would not be getting away with crap like this without the support of judges prosecutors and lawyers in general.

      It is about time to out the facilitators.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2020 @ 7:15am

      Re: Take a look at the judge.

      Sorry, gotta take exception.

      1) "Judge is siding" - Judge is siding, as you put it, with the side claiming imminent harm by social media posts. He may be wrong on the constitutionality of his ruling (I like to think so), but he is erring on the side of caution. And erring conservatively, in not also demanding other posts be (however temporarily) taken down.

      2) "murdering" - Let's try that again, shall we? Reading the linked article, Olthaus was involved in the incident, but was not the person who did the killing. The article does not say he fired his gun, or hit anyone. Maybe, maybe not then.

      3) "white supremacist ... " - Olthaus may or may not be, but you're projecting the plaintiff's views onto the judge. How did you make such a vast leap?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 3:36pm

        Re: Re: Take a look at the judge.

        he is erring on the side of caution.

        I wouldn't say so, since the defendants are now getting their constitutional rights trampled by this error. It only looks like erring on the side of caution from the plaintiff's perspective.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2020 @ 10:50am

      Re: Take a look at the judge.

      Left Wingers about anything they oppose: "Is this a white supremacist?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 5:15am

    "Officer Ryan Olthaus -- who was involved in the controversial killing of Dontez O'Neal in 2012 -- goes by the name "Michael Ryan" on his Facebook page."

    I doubt that he did it deliberately, but for British readers that name has somewhat concerning connotations.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungerford_massacre

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 5:45am

    I'd be happy to post that cop's info

    I'm in Ohio, and I'm not a blogger mentioned in the lawsuit. I'll be happy to post his information, if nothing else, than to piss off a white supremacist... :) :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      MathFox, 18 Aug 2020 @ 9:48am

      Re: I'd be happy to post that cop's info

      I hear you're applying for the position of John Doe #14.

      Please send your name, full address and phone number to the lawyers handling this case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Coffee U, 18 Aug 2020 @ 6:44am

    Title confusing

    On first read, I thought that a judge had forbidden users from being sued by said cop.

    I've tried rewording it, and haven't found anything that's both 1) significantly more clear, and 2) has the same info. I think "Facebook Users Being Sued by Cop, Forbidden by Judge From Publishing the Cop's Name On Future Social Media Posts." is slightly more clear, but also doesn't scan well.

    "Judge Forbids Defendants from Publishing the Name of the Cop Suing Them" is more succinct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 7:32am

    'One rule for me, another for thee' I see

    No, a ruling like that strikes me as perfectly fair, I mean it's not like cops ever publicly post the names of people accused of crimes or that end up dead from an interaction with a cop in an attempt to shift the narrative in their favor, it's only fair that members of the public (be forced to) show the same restraint.

    If a cop can't handle people saying mean words about them then they are clearly unfit for the job and should quit and let someone who actually is capable of dealing with hardships take their place, because if they can't handle the stress of words in a professional manner then they most certainly aren't going to be able to handle the rest of the job.

    As for the idea that the defendants are biased because they 'hate cops', hate to break it to the mythical 'good cops' but that's what you get when corruption and rot is allowed to flourish and grow in a profession, eventually people stop being willing to give the benefit of the doubt in accepting the argument that it really is 'just a few bad apples' and start seeing the entire profession as corrupt, and you've only yourselves to blame for that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 7:45am

    Communication and co-option

    Well, the judge seems to have made a really bad decision, though we don't really have enough information to determine his motivation. Automatically assuming that that motivation is racially nefarious might be a mistake. Or it could be spot on. Don't assume.

    I am also concerned that a symbol that has the connotation of things are OK has apparently been co-opted by some to have a different meaning (and since I don't immerse myself in the white supremacist culture have never heard of this before). Without context, which may or may not be enlightening or even correctly interpreted, knowing that that hand gesture means its original meaning or the co-opted one, or something else again that someone just made up does not seem possible. And there is nothing to prevent anyone from co-opting that gesture to have some other new meaning (as has already been done, it seems), and the burden of proof as to which meaning was intended would be upon the accuser. Good luck with that.

    I don't know this cop and I am not defending him, nor his action, as I, nor we, actually know what he intended with the use of the OK gesture. Only he does. I am not sure how any observer could imply what his intentions were, with absolute accuracy. That he has a sketchy background might be suggestive, but that seems to be pretty circumstantial. On the other hand, the cop's assumption that others assumed the gesture connotation was the bad one is hardly defamatory as those others are stating an opinion about the gesture use.

    The entire case is fraught with inanities. The original gesture, the interpretation of the gesture, the whining and opinion expressing on social media (right or wrong), the lawsuit, and the judges order all appear to be ridiculous in the extreme. But speech is free in this country, unless you have to pay a lawyer to keep it free. I don't see the lawsuit going anywhere, and the judge may get an uncomfortable talking to. The lawyers win, again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 8:10am

    Again...

    ... example 127,287 on why you can NEVER TRUST A COP. Nor their enablers (this judge, for example). Police, and their unions, are the largest terrorist organization on the planet, and should be treated as such.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2020 @ 8:52am

    > Nothing all that unusual about this. Someone with pretty thin skin was offended that other people said mean things about him and decided to sue about it. I saw Tim Cushing drinking coffee, and we all know pedophiles drink coffee, so he must be a pedophile.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 18 Aug 2020 @ 9:49am

    Huh?

    "OK" gesture is white power? That's about as stupid as the original stars and stripes is white power.

    OTOH, the constitution says freedom of speech. Barring publication is usually only for good reason - i.e. if there is a risk of a jury pool being prejudiced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 10:02am

      Re: Huh?

      ""OK" gesture is white power? "

      Yes. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/ok-sign-white-power-supremacy-alt-right-4chan-trol ling-hoax-a9249846.html

      "That's about as stupid as the original stars and stripes is white power."

      What do you mean the "original stars and stripes". I hope you're not referring to the Confederate flag?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 10:18am

        Re: Re: Huh?

        I usually hear the Traitor flag referred to as the "Stars and Bars.'

        Though the image of the American flag with one blue stripe certainly leans racist.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2020 @ 10:54am

          Re: Re: Re: Huh?

          I guess you're so brain dead that you don't recall when Nike canceled their Betsy Ross flag shoe because it's was supposedly racist.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 12:16pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

            Ah, so you misrepresented the argument. Shocking. No wonder you didn't actually say what you were so concerned about in the first place.

            Nike cancelled the release of the shoe because some prominent black sportspeople noted the relation to the rampant slavery at the time, not white power. There is a difference, although some people are fans of both.

            What's funny is that your snowflake ass is more concerned about the shoe being cancelled than you are by the fact that it was probably still being manufactured by actual slaves.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2020 @ 12:35pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

              I can't decide if you're a pedant or pissant.

              Probably both.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Atkray (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 2:09pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

                Wrong, he's British.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  PaulT (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 10:25pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

                  Yes, which is why it should be constantly embarrassing how much more I know about American politics than the average "patriotic" right winger.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 1:45am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

                    Snap! It's so much more exciting and sad than our own politics.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      PaulT (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 2:16am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

                      Well, exciting isn't necessarily the word, it's often depressing. But, no matter how you class it, US politics has a large effect on my life despite living thousands of miles away so I like to keep tabs on what's happening. It's strange that so many people who actually have a voice in US politics take so little care to understand the realities of what's going on.

                      I also keep tabs on the politics of the UK, EU and Spain, but at least I have some way of voting in those elections.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Toom1275 (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 8:00pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Huh?

            If you knew how to read, you would be embarassed at having made that comment.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2020 @ 12:22pm

      Re: Huh?

      How is the US flag not white power?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 12:12pm

    The okay sign being a white supremacy gesture is a 4chan hoax.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 Aug 2020 @ 12:19pm

      Re:

      WAS a 4 chan hoax. Now it's been co-opted by actual klan wannabes for real.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 Aug 2020 @ 3:30am

      Re:

      "The okay sign being a white supremacy gesture is a 4chan hoax."

      In much the same way the swastika is still just the teutonic sun wheel of light and fortune.

      Unfortunately when a hate group adopts a common greeting as their very own "secret handshake" it's rather difficult to take it back.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2020 @ 3:37pm

        Re: Re:

        It's especially difficult when everyone immediately cedes control of said common greeting and chooses to be complicit in the handover.

        I mean, surely Hitler - I mean white supremacists - will be happy with just the Sudetenland - oops, I mean the OK sign - and won't take the rest of Austria - (dang it again) I meant english language - right?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 18 Aug 2020 @ 9:33pm

    Wow

    The whole comment section confirms my opinion that the "anti-fascists" are fascists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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  • identicon
    Theauntsavant, 3 Sep 2020 @ 5:07pm

    Racism behind the badge

    I get it. The gesture by police officer Ryan Olthaus aka Michael is a nod to white supremacists. My qt. is why does he have an image of an African American male as his FB page header? Isn't the name of the person who is suing another person public information??? Or are cops allowed to hide behind the badge?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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