FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit filed against a Fort Pierce City Commissioner, accused of blocking a city critic from his Twitter page.
Rick Reed argued in the lawsuit that Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson’s Twitter account was public, and therefore, Johnson could not block certain people, including Reed, from the page.
“He was touting his achievements and the city’s achievements. It was very, very public,” Reed said.
In July 2019, Reed said he wrote a post on Johnson’s Twitter page about Johnson’s personal life.
After writing the comment, Reed said he was blocked from Johnson’s page.
Reed said he tried to have Johnson unblock him without having to take legal action, saying his first amendment rights were being violated.
When that did not happen, Reed said he filed the federal lawsuit.
“They can’t choose the tone or nature of what you’re saying. If it’s open, it’s open. The court says it’s like a public park. Everyone is entitled to go,” Reed said.
After seven months, Reed and Johnson reached a settlement.
In the agreement, Johnson did not admit any wrongdoing by blocking Reed from his Twitter account, but he agreed to the settlement to avoid further costly litigation.
Johnson will allow Reed future access to his public social media pages and reimburse Reed $480 that Reed spent in court costs. The city’s insurance company covered that cost.
Johnson’s Twitter account has been deactivated. He has a public Facebook page.
“It was about the First Amendment. I’m glad he saw the light,” Reed said. “The First Amendment wins. Unfortunately, the taxpayer had to pay for it.”
Johnson said in a statement that he believes in the constitution and called the lawsuit “weak.” He also said he blocked Reed because he thought the account through which Reed was commenting was spam.
“If he would have picked up the phone to chat, maybe he would have felt differently about his willingness to pursue this distracting, dead-end lawsuit. All opinions then could have been shared in the most effective manner possible...personally and directly to me, the elected official,” Johnson wrote.
In the settlement, Reed and Johnson acknowledge that public officials cannot block someone who expresses views they disagree with.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less,” the settlement states.