Appeals judge rules Facebook rant protected by First Amendment (UPDATE).

Byline: Eric Heisig,

An Arena man who lashed out on a police department's Facebook page is protected by First Amendment rights, the Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Prosecutors had argued that comments posted by Thomas Smith, 25, were "fighting words," or those that could incite a fight or disturbance.

According to the opinion, the Arena Police Department posted a note on its Facebook page thanking citizens who helped them apprehend two juvenile burglary suspects. In response, Smith posted an expletive-filled message stating "F--- the f---ing cops they ant (sic] sh--," and called the police and others racists. According to court documents, his post included the use of the word "nigers" which prosecutors argued was a misspelled racial slur meant to push the police into acting violently.

Smith was charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computerized communication system.

He asked Iowa County Circuit Judge William Dyke to throw out the case, claiming it was protected speech under the First Amendment. Dyke denied the request and Smith was found guilty by a jury. He was sentenced to 25 hours of community service and a year of probation, with the...

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