Police officer’s demotion after Facebook post affirmed
PEORIA, AZ – A Peoria police sergeant, demoted after his Facebook post caught national attention in January, has found no reprieve in his appeal.
An independent hearing officer upheld the demotion and suspension of Pat Shearer, whose posting showed a local teen holding a shot-up T-shirt bearing the likeness of President Barack Obama.
City leaders maintained his actions embarrassed the Police Department and brought disrepute to the city.
Shearer told The Republic that he regretted his action and agreed that discipline was warranted, but he called a demotion to the rank of officer excessive.
Hearing officer Cecil Patterson Jr. said Shearer knew about the department’s social-media policy and “intentionally and knowingly” violated it to the discredit of the city, according to the written recommendation obtained by The Republic.
The department’s social-media policy prohibits officers from using the agency’s name, logo or any other identifying symbols online unless they get prior authorization for posts related to work.
Employees also are prohibited from posting anything that may discredit the department.
Patterson’s recommendation to uphold Shearer’s discipline will go before a city personnel board for the final decision.
The recommendation stated that Shearer “has not taken responsibility for his conduct or acknowledged the bad judgment which he exhibited here because he has refused … and continues to refuse to acknowledge the damage which his actions caused (the city).”
Shearer said he was disappointed in the the finding.
He said his biggest regret is that this clouds his 25-year career with the city.
“I never wanted to offend anyone or bring discredit to the profession I love,” he said. “I hope that before I retire, I will be able to overshadow this incident with something positive.”
Shearer had clicked and posted that photo on his Facebook page after a weekend trip to a remote Arizona ranch.
His Facebook profile also showed him in uniform, in violation of department policy.
Shearer said he intends to speak before the personnel board, although no date has yet been scheduled.
“I feel like there’s a lot of politics involved, and that’s why it got as big as it did in the first place,” he said.
Peoria spokesman Bo Larsen did not comment on the hearing officer’s findings.
“We can’t speak about it until it’s presented to the board,” he said.
From The Arizona Republic
Officer’s Facebook post raises eyebrows, but does not result in discipline
FOND DU LAC, WI – A Fond du Lac Police Department employee has not been disciplined despite posting disparaging comments on his Facebook page aimed at the newly elected district attorney, the sheriff’s office and a private citizen.
Although the department spells out guidelines regarding employee conduct in the use of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, Capt. Steve Klein said detective Bill Ledger’s online comments were protected by the First Amendment.
“It’s always a fine line to balance an employee’s right to free speech and the employer’s right to make sure they’re not bringing the department into disrepute,” Klein said. “We have to be careful we’re not infringing upon someone’s political free speech.”
Ledger’s Facebook postings — which were visible to the public — accused Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink of driving the outcome of the Aug. 14 district attorney’s race which pitted Republican incumbent Dan Kaminsky against Republican challenger Eric Toney, the son of longtime Sheriff’s Office employee, Sgt. John Toney.
Ledger also targeted Toney’s perceived lack of experience and offered his condolences to crime victims under Toney’s administration. Ledger deferred comments to Klein. Toney also declined to comment on the story.
Klein said the Facebook post has been discussed with Ledger.
“All organizations are still trying to get a good grasp on social media because it’s a fairly new phenomenon,” Klein said. “We met with (Ledger) after we became aware of the complaints and re-emphasized the policies and procedures we have in place.”
Posting inappropriate comments or photos online has became a problem nationally for police. Some have been disciplined or fired. Law enforcement agencies have scrambled to enact policies dealing with the use of social media that may damage the credibility of officers or the agency for which they work.
Errant online comments have the potential to damage inter-agency trust and cooperation, and impact the public’s perception of the agency’s professionalism and integrity, said Rick Stubbs, legal advisor for the Denver Police Department and co-author of a national report on social networking.
Chief Deputy Mark Strand said the Fond du Lac Sheriff’s Office also has a policy outlining off-duty use of social media.
“Sheriff’s office employees are held to higher standards of personal and professional conduct at all times,” Strand said. “We have a pretty strict policy in place and if this person had been a sheriff’s deputy, it would have been a whole different issue.”
Strand said comments leveled at the Sheriff’s Office were not taken personally.
“(Ledger) can voice his opinion as he sees fit,” he said. “Obviously, passions were high during the election, but we’ve since moved on.”
Klein also chalked up the heated online exchange of “political rhetoric” as the product of a hotly contested political race, with the Sheriff’s Office publicly endorsing Toney and the police union backing Kaminsky.
“Some officers felt very strongly in supporting their candidate for the election. That’s part of what makes America great, being able to voice opinions,” Klein said. “We don’t, however, condone (Ledger’s) behavior. He does not represent the voice of the Fond du Lac P.D.”
Chris Ewerdt said Ledger’s derogatory comment aimed at her “crossed the line.”
“I think (Ledger) took his comments too far and should have been reprimanded,” Ewerdt said.
The Waupun woman filed a complaint against Kaminsky with the Office of Lawyer Regulation this year about the district attorney’s handling of a controversial OWI plea deal. The complaint is officially under investigation by the Madison-based agency.
Klein doesn’t believe the online comments have hurt his department’s working relationship with the sheriff’s office and the newly elected district attorney.
“We will throw our support 100 percent behind whoever is in that office,” Klein said. “We will be working very closely (with Toney) as we all have the same goal in mind and that’s to have justice served.”