Judge cites free speech in clearing bear activist over post
Aug. 22, 2017
MOUNT OLIVE, N.J. (AP) — A judge cited free speech rights in finding a woman not guilty of harassment charges stemming from a social media post about the death of a bear that frequented her neighborhood.
Michael Bush and Nickey Pisco filed complaints after Susan Kehoe posted on Facebook in October that she believed one of them killed the bear she nicknamed "Pretty Mama."
Bush said he received death threats and negative business because of the post.
The judge ruled Monday that while he found harassment, he couldn't find Kehoe guilty because of her free speech rights. Judge Brian Levine referenced a 2016 case in which an appellate court ruled public, noninvasive speech does not support a harassment conviction.
"Words must do more than offend, cause indignation or anger the addressee to lose the protection of the First Amendment," Levine said.
Kehoe's attorney told the New Jersey Herald that the ruling shows "the First Amendment matters."
Before the judge's ruling, prosecutor Lisa Thompson argued the First Amendment does not protect against someone inciting their followers to "cause annoyance and alarm and death threats."
Bush said he wasn't pleased with the outcome and will file more charges against Kehoe if any future issues occur.