By now we all know that COVID-19 is a terrifying beast. It has wreaked havoc on our country for more than 18 months and we continue to battle this monster every day, but who would think a Covid Instagram post could result in an arrest threat. We have come pretty far from those first few months in terms of understanding the virus, testing for it, and mitigating the spread through protocols like hand washing, masking, social distancing, and of course vaccinating. Back when the pandemic was in its infancy stages and we were locked down in quarantine with the fear of the unknown nearly incapacitating us, hearing of a positive case in your area was scary. But did telling people that you had the virus, past tense, really bring cause for arrest? In one Wisconsin town, a teenager was threatened.
According to court documents, Amyiah Cohoon had a fever and cough in March of 2020. Her symptoms definitely aligned with what we understood, and still understand, to be COVID symptoms. But back then, she didn’t qualify to be tested. The tests were in limited supply and she wasn’t on the short list to have one. Instead, her doctor instructed her to isolate to remain safe. Which she did. But what she did next caused chaos.
Cohoon commented in a now-deleted Instagram post that she had beaten the COVID-19 virus. She was recovering at home and that she was better. According to the Marquette County, Wisconsin sheriff’s office, this was cause for concern and possible arrest of a then 16-year-old high school student. What the actual fuck?
In dash cam video obtained by the Washington Post, Officer Cameron Klump from the sheriff’s department visited Cohoon’s home and asked that the post be removed and that she issue another statement that she was not positive — seemingly to calm the nerves of the public.
It is not clear in the video who is speaking to the officer, but a man explains that they had been in contact with the health department and by the time a test was administered, she was negative. However, she was previously admitted and treated at a children’s hospital as if she had the virus. He said that they would not issue a statement that she never had the virus and misled people, because they didn’t actually know if she was ever positive or not.
The officer said, “It was as simple as me coming out here and getting the post taken down and walking away.”
After the man stated that post wouldn’t come down, Klump threatened, “If it doesn’t come down, the sheriff has directed me to issue disorderly conduct citations, if not start taking people to jail, because it is causing a disturbance to the public. To cause them to call the school to yell at the administrators because the administrators aren’t telling them that this student’s positive for COVID and this student was in Florida with their students.”
“I didn’t want this to happen. All I wanted to do was let people know that I was ill at the time, because I was around a bunch of other people,” Amyiah Cohoon told the Post.
Court documents state that Cohoon’s symptoms started after a band trip to Walt Disney World and Universal studios. These facts were not challenged, nor was her ineligibility for a test. The sheriff’s department wanted the family to say that she wasn’t positive, to calm the fears of the community. However, whether or not she was actually positive is inconclusive. Cohoon’s camp was adamant that they would not be making a statement retracting her Instagram post. Ultimately, the original post came down, but the fight was just beginning.
A federal lawsuit was filed by the family the following month stating that the sheriff’s department violated her right to freedom of speech.
Court documents state, “The doctors at Divine Savior examined Amyiah and diagnosed her with an ‘acute upper respiratory infection.’ (Id.) They informed her that her symptoms were consistent with COVID19 but said they could not test her for the virus due to the testing criteria in effect at the time. (Id.) They then discharged her with an inhaler and instructions to strictly self-quarantine for 14 days and return if her condition worsened. (Id.) They also instructed her parents to self-quarantine for 14 days, consistent with the COVID-19 protocols in place at the time.”
The family did everything right. But Cohoon posted on Instagram, which according to the sheriff’s department caused chaos and fear in the public. The family says that she was more than free to post her thoughts on social media, as it is her unalienable right to freedom of speech. In a decision handed down September 24, 2021, Brett H. Ludwig, United States District Judge agreed with the Cohoons and ordered that the sheriff’s department did in fact violate her rights.
“The First Amendment is not a game setting for the government to toggle off and on. It applies in times of tranquility and times of strife. While Defendants in this case may have believed their actions served the greater good, that belief cannot insulate them. Demanding a 16-year-old remove protected speech from her Instagram account is a First Amendment violation. Declaratory judgment is granted,” Ludwig decreed.
Cohoon’s post was innocent. She is a kid — a kid who wanted her friends to know that she was feeling better. It had nothing to do with inciting fear in the community or causing any other kind of trouble, contrary to what the sheriff’s office implied. And certainly was not cause to threaten arrest. Judge Ludwig agreed.
Cohoon has fully recovered and has gotten back to her normal teenage life. Amyiah’s mother, Angela Cohoon, told the Post, “We didn’t want to see anybody else go through this.”
Scary Mommy reached out to the Cohoon family, but they could not be reached for comment.