PHThe city’s firefighters union has rebuked the actions of a paramedic who posted a photo on Instagram of two black men holding guns to a white police officer’s head.
But if the paramedic, Marcell Salters, is fired, the union will appeal, an official said Friday.
“The paramedic involved is sorry. He realizes it was inappropriate. He issued an apology,” said Joe Schulle, president of Fire Fighters Local 22.
PHILADELPHIA, PA It’s a perilous situation for the union: representing a paramedic whose views have angered many of its own members as well as countless others across the city and country.
Yet it’s not the first time the union has been in that sort of spot. In 2007, it defended a firefighter who in a rap song called police officers “pigs” and said he would turn them “into bacon bits.”
Salters, a paramedic at Field Medic Unit 23 on North 61st Street, posted the photo Tuesday along with the caption: “Our real enemy … need 2 stop pointing guns at each other & at the ones that’s legally killing innocents.”
The backlash was swift. Mayor Nutter called it “reprehensible” and said the post could provoke inappropriate actions from others.
Salters, who had not returned requests for comment, apologized on Facebook, saying he did not intend to hurt his “brothers in blue.”
Schulle said Salters posted the photo before going to bed, then decided to remove it when he woke up the following morning.
Schulle said that some discipline may be appropriate but that he did not think the paramedic should be fired.
Salters remains on duty while the department conducts an investigation. The department said in a statement Friday that it is clear he violated the social media policy. That policy was instituted in 2012 and is more restrictive than the city’s social media rules for employees.
The Fire Department bans employees from identifying themselves as firefighters or paramedics on social media accounts, from using any social media when on duty, and from making any comments inconsistent with the ethics of the department while off duty.
It specifically prohibits posting personal attacks or items that foster discrimination based on race.
When the policy was instituted, the then-president of Local 22, Bill Gault, called it a violation of First Amendment rights.
Schulle said the union still has concerns with the policy and has fought many battles over it since 2012, including one where a member was disciplined for making a post critical of the department in a private Facebook group.
The First Amendment rights of government employees are typically protected by courts when they act outside of their job duties, according to Pennsylvania ACLU attorney Sara Rose.
But Rose said Salters’ actions come “close to the line.”
She said that if he were fired and his case ended up in court, Salters would have to show that his own right to free speech, and the public’s interest in hearing his opinions, outweighed the best interest of the department in prohibiting such statements.
Because Salters has to work with Philadelphia police officers, she said, the Fire Department could argue that his opinions make it “very problematic” for it to function as an employer.
The department said Friday its social media policy is more restrictive than the city’s because its employees are “held to a higher standard of conduct and are expected to uphold and maintain the public’s trust.”
It’s only the latest case in recent weeks where a municipal employee turned to social media in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner – and received heat in return.
Earlier this week, a police officer in San Jose, Calif., lashed out at protesters on Twitter, using the hashtag #CopsLivesMatter and saying he would kill anyone who threatened him or his family. More than 15,000 people have signed an online petition calling for his ouster; he has been placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation.
In the 2007 case of the Philadelphia firefighter rapping about “pigs,” the police union called for the man to be fired, and Schulle said he was. But the union appealed, and the firefighter was able to return to work.