ALEXANDRIA, La.—Last week, a jury determined that Waylon Bailey’s constitutional rights had been violated and ordered the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office to pay $205,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. During the COVID-19 pandemic Waylon made a joke about the virus, zombies, and the sheriff’s department on Facebook. Hours later, a team of armed sheriff’s deputies, dressed in tactical gear, arrested Waylon.
The charges were later dropped, but when Waylon sued the department and deputy responsible for the arrest, a federal court granted qualified immunity and dismissed the suit. Waylon’s trial attorneys at Bizer & DeReus teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm, and appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. After argument by IJ, the 5th Circuit reversed the dismissal, saying Waylon’s speech was protected by the First Amendment. This cleared the way for a jury to consider the case and award damages.
“I feel vindicated that the jury agreed that my post was satire and that no reasonable police officer should have arrested me for my speech,” said Waylon Bailey. “This verdict is a clear signal that the government can’t just arrest someone because the officers didn’t like what they said. I’d like to thank my lawyers for their hard work and determination.”
“It is telling that it took less than two hours for a jury of Mr. Bailey’s peers in Western Louisiana to rule in his favor on all issues,” said Andrew Bizer, Bailey’s trial attorney. “The jury clearly understood that the Facebook post was Constitutionally protected speech. The jury’s award of significant damages shows that they understood how Mr. Bailey’s world was turned upside down when the police wrongly branded him a terrorist. We are delighted with this result.”
“Our First Amendment rights aren’t worth anything if courts won’t hold the government responsible for violating them,” said IJ Attorney Ben Field. “We are proud to have played a key part in ensuring that Waylon Bailey got justice at the appellate court after he was unconstitutionally arrested for his speech. His case now stands as a warning for government officials and as a precedent that others can use to defend their rights.”