Sarcastic Facebook Comment Led to Man's Arrest, Lawsuit Claims

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It turns out  that jokes about school shootings freak people out. Shocker. - FLICKR VIA DVIDSHUB
  • Flickr via DVIDSHUB
  • It turns out that jokes about school shootings freak people out. Shocker.

On January 25, James Robert Ross, a 20-year-old convenience store clerk in Jackson, Missouri, left a bitterly sarcastic comment on a Facebook post titled "Why I need a gun."

That comment would come back to bite Ross in the ass.

We haven't been able to find the original Facebook post ourselves, but according to a federal lawsuit filed on Ross' behalf last week, it included an image of an AK 47 assault rifle. The caption read: "This one is for self-defense against enemies, foreign & domestic, for preservation of freedom & liberty, and to prevent government atrocities."

Ross, who's described in the suit as a "gun-control advocate," commented on the post:

"Which one do I need to shoot up a kindergarten?"

See also: Latonya Davis: St. Louis Mother Charged After Posting Toddler Fistfight on Facebook

Ross' comment -- snide, flippant and more than a little insensitive -- doesn't seem outside the norm for Facebook, particularly where hot-button political issues like gun rights are concerned. Indeed, it's been well-established that comment sections are the virtual equivalent of middle school cafeterias. In general, they're filled with insensitive people being awful to each other. No surprises there.

But Ross' missive must have stood out. The next day, the lawsuit continues, an anonymous tipster contacted the Jackson Police Department. A "threat" had been made on Facebook, the tipster reported. Two detectives showed up at Ross' job at a Casey's General Store and arrested him.

Under questioning, Ross admitted he'd written the Facebook post, but insisted that he was just trying to make a political point through satire.

From the lawsuit:

"[Ross] further stated that he considered himself to be a pacifist and that he supported gun control because gun control would prevent massacres like the Sandy Hook school shooting. He also stated that his comment was not intended to convey a threat but to make a political statement."

Still, Ross spent the next 72 hours in jail before being released on a $1,000 cash bond. He was charged with a class B misdemeanor for disturbing the peace.

The charge was dismissed four months later by a Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecutor. Which brings us to the lawsuit Ross' lawyers filed in federal court on Friday against the city of Jackson and three of its police officers. Ross is seeking damages for unlawful arrest and violation of his constitutional rights. He also wants the court to order the City of Jackson develop a training program for its officers "concerning the rights for freedom of speech, expression, and unlawful search and seizure."

Ross' lawyer, Gordon Glaus, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Whether he wins the lawsuit or not, we hope Ross learns his lesson about the dangers of using sarcasm on Facebook. Here's our suggestion: Next time Ross wants to post some inflammatory satire about shooting up a kindergarten, he should throw in shruggy guy at the end. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

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