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Indianapolis –A woman whose Facebook post supporting her imprisoned brother resulted in the Indiana Department of Correction both curtailing her contact with the brother and in segregation time for her brother has filed suit against the DOC for violating her First Amendment rights.
Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana brought suit on behalf of Valerie Buford, the sister of Pendleton Correctional Facility inmate Leon Benson, whose “Free Leon Benson” social media campaign involves several Internet sites seeking to gain his release from prison. Buford had posted a video to her Facebook page of her brother thanking and rallying his supporters. Benson had sent his sister the video via J-Pay, a company that contracts with the State to provide services to prisoners and their families such as email, video messaging and money transfers. When the prison learned the video had been posted on Facebook, Benson was disciplined and the DOC has blocked Buford’s ability to use J-Pay.
“Ms. Buford was advocating for her brother and the State cannot penalize private citizens for exercising constitutionally protected rights of free expression,” said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. “The First Amendment protects against retaliatory actions of government officials that can have a chilling effect on speech.”
The case seeks to remove the block preventing J-Pay communications between the plaintiff and her brother and to prevent any such future retaliatory actions. It also seeks the client’s damages.
Valerie Buford v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, No. 1:15-cv-157-SEB-TAB, was filed on Feb. 5, 2015 in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.