Whitman instructor threatens legal action, wants apology from Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers
WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Whitman College Language Learning Center Manager Devon Wootten is asking for an apology from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers after she blocked him from her Facebook page and the Capitol Police told Wootten’s employer he “may be suffering from an unknown mental illness.”
Wootten, who is currently running for position 3 on the Walla Walla city council, said it all started in January when he noticed McMorris Rodgers wouldn’t respond to Facebook comments with differing opinions.
“I was frustrated. This is my representative and yet she seems to have no interest in actually discussing the subtleties of policy,” said Wootten. “In order to sort of bring attention to that, I made the joke on Facebook that she was a robot.”
Wootten began translating his comments into binary code, creating the parody that if she is a robot, she might respond to those messages.
Wootten was then blocked from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Facebook page.
He said after several calls to her office, McMorris Rodgers’ press secretary let him know that he would be unblocked and able to participate in conversations on her page again.
Wootten continued to tag the Congresswoman and her staff in articles and comment on her posts.
On Feb. 14 Capitol Police wrote an email to Whitman College Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland suggesting that Wooten was mentally ill.
Special Agent David Millard wrote:
“A report was made to my office from a U.S. Congressional office that Mr. Devon WOOTTEN had recently said and done things that made the Congressional staff concerned that Mr. WOOTTEN may be suffering from an unknown mental illness. The reported issues can be viewed as either Mr. WOOTEN exercising his 1 st Amendment rights or it could be viewed as activity that could be harassment.”
“Under no possible understanding of my comments or my contact with her staff, nothing I could do could be construed as threatening,” said Wootten. “For me, this feels like a clear criminalization of political speech.”
Wootten said he is taking legal action because he is privileged to work for a liberal institution that values free speech. He said others might be fired if their employer received the same email.
“I can speak up on this issue in a way that many people can’t,” said Wootten. “If she’s done this to me, there must be other people out there.”
Wootten and his lawyer sent Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers a letter asking for an apology and her to recant the assertion that he is mentally ill.
A response from General Counsel on behalf of McMorris Rodgers said the events do not raise First Amendment concerns and McMorris Rodgers was following the viewpoint-neutral social media policy.
The letter also states McMorris Rodgers has no control over the actions of the Capitol Police.