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Karen Fonseca was identified as the driver of a truck with a large “F*ck Trump” sign in the back window, and she’s accusing sheriff’s officials in Texas of abusing their authority after they arrested her for an outstanding warrant after they launched a search for the owner of the decal-carrying truck.
“I’m almost certain it does have to do with this,” she said to WFAA-TV. “People abuse the badge, and in my opinion, money talks. When you’re in politics, people know how to work the system.”
Even before the arrest of Karen Fonseca, 46, the Fort Bend, Texas Sheriff’s Department’s handling of the sign was causing national controversy when the sheriff took to social media to announce the department was looking for the driver and that criminal charges might result. Authorities now say the sign itself won’t be prosecuted after Karen Fonseca, and her husband, Mike, were outed as the truck’s owners. The Sheriff’s Department is located in Richmond, Texas. “Constitutional Law 101: You can’t ban speech just because it has ‘f@ck’ in it,” the ACLU of Texas responded to the sheriff. “Hey truck owner, feel free to contact the ACLU of Texas.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. It All Started When the Sheriff Posted a Photo of the ‘F*ck Trump’ Sign on Facebook
Specifically, the sign on the Fonseca truck reads, “F*ck Trump and f*ck you for voting for him.” The Sheriff has since removed the Facebook post from the page. However, it originally showed a photo that someone had snapped of the back of the vehicle with part of the expletive and the hand blacked out. According to CBS News, Sheriff Troy Nehls on November 15 posted the photo on Facebook “alongside a request to speak with the driver.”
“Nehls in his post said that a county prosecutor told him the message could warrant a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. But at a news conference later Wednesday, he seemed to back away from that idea. Nehls said he supports freedom of speech but worried that profane messages could incite others and lead to confrontations that would disturb the peace he’s pledged to keep,” reported CBS News, which added that Nehls has stopped talking to the news media about his Facebook post because his office says he and his family have received “hate messages.”
This is what Sheriff Nehls wrote in the now deleted Facebook post that included a picture of the truck: “I have received numerous calls regarding the offensive display on this truck as it is often seen along FM 359. If you know who owns this truck or it is yours, I would like to discuss it with you. 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.” According to KHOU, Nehls also posted the disorderly conduct statute from Texas. It reads, partly, “”Uses abusive, indecent, profane or vulgar language in a public place, and the language by its very utterance tends to incite an immediate breach of peace.”
Mike Fonseca posted a photo of the truck on Facebook in September.
KHOU-TV spoke to the District Attorney, who disputed that the Sheriff had spoken to him before the Facebook message and who said he wouldn’t press charges solely for the decal and message on the truck. However, that didn’t stop Karen Fonseca from ending up in jail. She told The Houston Chronicle that, technically, her husband Mike owns the truck, but she often drives it.
2. Karen Fonseca Was Walking Into Her House With Soup When She Was Arrested
The day after the sheriff’s Facebook post, Karen Fonseca, the owner of the truck, was arrested. According to WFAA-TV, her husband, Mike Fonseca told the television station that his wife “was picked up Thursday afternoon for an outstanding warrant from August. He posted her bond Thursday night, and she was released from jail about an hour later.” Karen told WFAA, “I had just bought me soup was going to go to the house. I turn around and he says, ‘I’m not going to put handcuffs on you. I’ll follow you to your house, park your truck and come with us.’ I go, ‘A warrant’? I’ve been doing background checks recently, and they’ve all come out clear.’”
She is accused of fraud, the television station reported, and the Sheriff’s Department received a “tip” that led to the warrant. A sheriff’s spokesperson told the television station the sheriff deleted the Facebook post because Fonseca was identified, saying, “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.” KHOU-TV had tracked the Fonsecas down before Karen’s arrest, and they insisted they would not remove the decal, indicating it was a free speech issue.
3. A Petition Is Calling for the Sheriff to Step Down & People Strongly Criticized Him on Social Media
One Change.org petition circulating on the Internet compares Sheriff Nehls to Kim Jong Un of North Korea. “On Nov. 15, 2017 Sheriff Troy Nehls went to Facebook showing his lack of knowledge of the Constitution that he swore an oath to. Troys action is easily compared to Kim Jong Un. Troy reached out to his followers on Facebook in attempts to silence someone who has different political views. Due to his actions the owner of the trucks face and name quickly gathered hate from around the world as well as the owner of the car being in jail. We are asking for the sheriff to step down and resign. This country was founded on democracy, not silencing different opinions,” it reads.
Response on social media was similarly harsh in many corners. “Seriously. Who’s making ‘F Sheriff Nehls’ car window stickers and where do I buy one?” wrote one woman on Twitter. Another wrote, “No, Sheriff Troy E. Nehls, you can’t prosecute speech just because it contains words you don’t like.” Another person wrote: “Sheriff Nehls doesn’t know or understand the case law regarding free speech…this is very evident…And, who was the DA who said she could get a disorderly conduct charge?? Where did she go to law school?? Trump University??” Others argued there was a political double standard, with one person writing on social media, “Bet if the truck read F**K HILLARY or OBAMA that Sheriff Nehls would issue police escorts & pose grinning next to it. 😡” Another person wrote: “Can you include a section about what bumper stickers the Democratic people’s republic of fort bend will allow….and maybe the dear leader could approve mine?”
However, not everyone was opposed to the actions of the sheriff, who said his office had received calls about the sign. “I’ve seen this truck, and I would pleased if the owner of this vehicle was prosecuted for disorderly conduct. My children saw this, and I was infuriated they were subjected to this offensive display,” one woman wrote on the sheriff’s Facebook page before the thread was deleted.
4. Karen Fonseca Says She Worked for the Department of Criminal Justice & Has 12 Children
According to his Facebook page, Mike Fonseca works at a car club near Houston, Texas. On her Facebook page, Karen Fonseca writes that she was a former “Agente penitenciário at Texas Department of Criminal Justice” who studied at Wharton Co. Jr. College, went to B. F. Terry High School, and lives in Houston, Texas. She is from Rosenberg, Texas, and her Facebook cover photo shows Karen and Mike with three small children.
Click2Houston reported that Karen Fonseca is the mother of 12 children. “Karen Forsenca said she and her husband have had the decal on their truck for almost a year,” the television station reported, quoting her as saying, “I thought the whole thing was totally crazy. It’s been on there for such a long time and we have so much positive out of it — more positive that outweighs the negative.” The television station adds, “The mother of 12 said she and her husband stand by the stickers and don’t plan on taking them down. Forsenca said she doesn’t understand why the sheriff didn’t reach out to her, instead of posting it on Facebook.”
5. People Shared Photos of Other Bumperstickers to Challenge Nehls, a Republican Who Is Considering a Congressional Bid
People began sharing photos of other trucks with bumperstickers to argue that Nehls has a political doublestandard in whom he’s going after, which they consider an abuse of his law enforcement authority. Many of the photos being shared showed bumperstickers that relate to Texas’ gun culture.
According to The Houston Chronicle, Nehls is a Republican who is considering a bid for Congress. “He is known for comments that criminals who enter Fort Bend County could leave in a body bag. He adopted a dog that a television reporter saved while out with the sheriff during the 2016 floods,” the newspaper reported.