A Texas sheriff considering a run for Congress caused a social media firestorm on Wednesday after he threatened charges against the driver of a truck with a big anti-Trump sticker.
The sticker on the back window did not mince words. It read “Fuck Trump and Fuck You For Voting For Him,” and that rubbed Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls the wrong way.
Nehls, a Republican who the Houston Chronicle said is thinking about running for Congress, went to his personal Facebook page to suggest there might be a little problem with the truck’s political message.
“I have received numerous calls regarding the offensive display on this truck as it is often seen along FM [Farm to Market Road] 359. ... Our Prosecutor has informed us she would accept Disorderly Conduct charges regarding it, but I feel we could come to an agreement regarding a modification to it,” he wrote.
Nehls later deleted the post, but not before the American Civil Liberties Union had helpfully saved it for posterity. The ACLU also offered a reminder that the Constitution that Nehls is supposed to defend allows for peaceful, if foul-mouthed protests:
No, Sheriff Troy E. Nehls, you can’t prosecute speech just because it contains words you don’t like.
The owner of this truck should contact the ACLU of Texas.
The potential charges looked dubious at best to one person responding to Nehls on Facebook.
“If the owner turns his or herself in and then faces charges, please tell me where I can contribute to a legal defense fund to help defend against these politically motivated charges,” the man wrote, according to KHOU TV.
Another person who thought Nehls overstepped his bounds was John Healey, the district attorney of Fort Bend County. He told KTRK that the sheriff never consulted him about whether the anti-Trump sticker was violating any laws.
Healey also questioned whether the sticker’s language met the legal requirements for disorderly conduct. “The words would have to ‘tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace,’” he told the station.
But if no one has become violent or confrontational toward the truck’s owner ― and there’s no police report stating that happened ― the district attorney said there’s no disorderly conduct.
Numerous media outlets tracked down the owner of the truck, who said she used to work for Nehls at the county jail.
Karen Fonseca told the Houston Chronicle that she and her husband had the sticker made shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. It attracts all types of reactions, she said, including photo-taking by some people and head shakes from others.
In addition, she has been pulled over by police officers, none of whom could find a reason for writing a ticket.
“It’s not to cause hate or animosity,” the 46-year-old Fonseca told the paper. “It’s just our freedom of speech and we’re exercising it.”
In a twist, she was later arrested on an outstanding warrant on unrelated charges of fraudulent use or possession of information, according to jail records.
The Fort Bend County sheriff’s office released this statement on Thursday afternoon:
The Sheriff made the post on his Personal page. The objective of the post was to find the owner/driver of the truck and have a conversation with them in order to prevent a potential altercation between the truck driver and those offended by the message. Since the owner of the truck has been identified, the Sheriff took down the post. Due to the hate messages he has been receiving towards his wife and children, the Sheriff will not be commenting on the matter further.