Lafayette Consolidated Government has sued a comedian over satire posts about fake events.
The lawsuit asks the court to find comedian John Merrifield liable for any expenses the city incurred, even though the suit admits the post was a hoax. The suit claims that the city was required to send officers to the fake event "to ensure no harm befell any citizens or property from people taking the Antifa hoax seriously."
The suit doesn't say how much money the city wants, but it does say the damages are less than $75,000.
Merrifield, who lives in New York, posted the fake event on his satire Facebook page. The event said that Antifa was coming to River Ranch. It referenced "membership cards" and "uniforms." It also urged attendees to bring their arms, but added "legs are optional."
Prior to the date of the "event," Merrifield gave several interviews to local media, including KATC, stating that the post was a joke. You can see our interview here.
Despite that, on the date of the fake event, River Ranch was crawling with Lafayette Police and Lafayette Sheriff's deputies. Although KATC has made several public records requests for information regarding the cost of the deployment of those officers, LCG has never produced any documents or information in response.
The LPSO did respond to a similar request, and said all deputies who worked the event - which did not happen - were on the clock for their regular duties, so no extra money was spent.
Although experts have stated repeatedly that Antifa is not a group but a movement, the lawsuit cites a tweet by the president saying he will designate it as a terrorist organization. However, it does admit the "event" was a hoax, and describes a similar hoax perpetrated in another state.
Merrifield said all along that no reasonable person would believe it was anything but a hoax.
He told KATC that he intentionally worded the event description so that "anyone with discernment" would know it was a joke. He said he wasn't surprised that Lafayette's mayor felt compelled to address the post; but instead, "maybe validated."
When we reached Merrifield at his home this afternoon, he said he had seen the lawsuit. We asked if he expected it, and his reponse was "I did not expect that Josh Guillory would further embarrass himself in this way, no."
The lawsuit also mentions a second fake event that was shared on social media targeting the Mall of Acadiana. Over the weekend the mall closed early. Read more on that here.
When we asked if he had reached out to the ACLU or other like organization for legal assistance, he said "I don’t want to take free resources away from PoC and other disenfranchised groups. I’m gonna ask for help paying the lawyer I consulted."
According to the First Amendment Encyclopedia, satire is protected by the First Amendment.
"Satire, a literary form that humorously mocks, ridicules, and scorns individuals and political or social practices, is one of the most effective means of criticism. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, it has been used to lampoon the comfortable, the rich, the famous and, most important from a constitutional standpoint, the powerful.
Satire is implicitly protected by the free expression clause of the First Amendment. Nevertheless, it frequently has come under legal attack," the Encyclopedia states.
Here's the lawsuit: