A father is suing the city of Pensacola and the Escambia County School District after his son was arrested and reassigned to an alternative school for posting a school shooting “meme.”
The incident, which occurred in 2018, involved a student who was at the time an eighth grader at Workman Middle School. The student reportedly made an Instagram post with a picture of an individual attaching a silencer to a handgun and the caption, “When you’re shooting up the school and about to enter the library.”
The picture was reportedly posted Feb. 13, 2018, a day before 17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A parent reported the post to a Workman guidance counselor Feb. 16, and the juvenile was arrested by a school resource officer that day for “conspiring to disrupt the education process,” according to the lawsuit.
The student was ultimately acquitted and moved to a school overseas, but his father is suing in federal court for false arrest, battery and constitutional violations.
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The school was placed on lockdown when administrators learned of the post. The student was allegedly called out of class, “shoved” against a wall, searched, handcuffed and arrested. He reportedly told officers he posted the image because he was “trying to start a meme account.”
The lawsuit contends the arrest was “unlawful, unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances” and that it violated the student’s rights to free speech and against unreasonable search and seizure. It notes that a few friends who initially saw the post attributed it to “dark humor” and states that an officer addressing the arrest in a press conference the next day emphasized “that at no time was Workman Middle School or any school in danger of violence.”
The lawsuit names the Escambia County School District, the city of Pensacola, the school principal and PPD officers involved in the arrest.
Motions to dismiss the case have been filed on behalf of all defendants. They argue, among other things, that the officers had probable cause to make the arrest and responded appropriately; that none of the student’s constitutional rights were violated; and that legal precedent establishes schools can take actions when a student’s off-campus “speech” includes violent or threatening communications or disruptive comments that can reasonably be expected to reach and impact the school environment.
“The notion that any school administrator or law enforcement officer assigned to protect Florida’s public school children acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose by taking the actions alleged in (the plaintiff’s) complaint – less than 48 hours after the Parkland massacre – is preposterous,” a motion from the two officers’ attorneys said.
The plaintiff claims his son has suffered physical, mental and emotional injury and pain, mental anguish, suffering, humiliation and embarrassment as a result of the incident. He is seeking compensatory damages, costs and other relief.
Kevin Robinson can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8527.