Louisiana Man Awarded $205,000 After Unconstitutional Arrest for Zombie Joke about COVID-19 on Facebook

FOREST HILL, Louisiana – A recent federal jury decision has awarded Waylon Bailey $205,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after his unconstitutional arrest for a satirical Facebook post about COVID-19. The arrest occurred in March 2020 when a SWAT-style raid took place at Bailey’s home, triggered by his zombie-themed joke. The arrest prompted Bailey to file a lawsuit against the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office and Detective Randell Iles, which culminated in the recent jury verdict in his favor.

Bailey expressed his satisfaction with the outcome, stating that the jury recognized his Facebook post as satire and that no reasonable police officer should have arrested him for his speech. This verdict signifies that the government cannot arrest individuals simply because law enforcement officers disagree with their comments, according to Bailey’s press release.

Bailey’s Facebook post, which alluded to the movie “World War Z,” jokingly mentioned shooting the infected and included the hashtag #Covid9teen #weneedyoubradpitt. The Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, alarmed by what they perceived as false information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, immediately initiated an investigation. As a result, Bailey was arrested for terrorism without an arrest warrant.

While the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute Bailey, U.S. District Judge David C. Joseph dismissed his claims, stating that his Facebook post was not protected by the First Amendment. Judge Joseph cited a 1919 case, Schenck v. United States, which mentioned the limitations of free speech, such as falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit later overturned Judge Joseph’s decision, stating that Bailey’s post did not constitute incitement or a true threat.

The 5th Circuit also found that Detective Iles violated Bailey’s constitutional rights and engaged in false arrest. Iles had arrested Bailey in part because of the content of his Facebook post, and Bailey’s speech was chilled after he agreed to delete it to avoid further consequences. The recent jury verdict served as validation for Bailey’s claims, awarding him significant damages.

The Institute for Justice, which assisted Bailey in his lawsuit, emphasized the importance of holding the government accountable for violating First Amendment rights. Bailey’s case serves as a precedent for others who may face similar situations, showcasing the significance of defending individual rights.

By delivering this verdict, the jury demonstrated their understanding of the constitutional protection of speech and recognized the impact of the false terrorist branding on Bailey’s life. The decision stands as a warning to government officials and a milestone for safeguarding individuals’ rights.