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SWAT Sniper Entitled To Jury Trial In Facebook Case

You know a court’s opinion will be anything but run-of-the-mill when it begins: “Social media has allowed Americans to connect with friends in far-flung places and to share their opinions on topics both mundane and momentous. But social media can also tempt people to impulsively make inflammatory comments that they later regret. And even worse for them, employers often react by firing or punishing them for their ill-advised remarks….

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Houston District Fire Chief Loses Social Media Case

Steven Dunbar, a District Chief for the Houston Fire Department (HFD), made a post in a private social media group for HFD firefighters in July 2019. Discussing a transfer opportunity HFD had posted the month before, he wrote: “If you are thinking about putting in for a spot in District 64 on C-shift you better have your sh** together. Wanna play games like previously-assigned members? You will be miserable…promise.”…

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Federal Court Upholds Facebook Discipline

Ariel Lindsay has been a Cook County, Illinois deputy sheriff since2004, and was assigned to the Court Services Unit in the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. From July 6, 2016, through July 8, 2016, Lindsay made several posts to her Facebook account. Those posts referenced the July 2016 shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, and the public sentiment towards law enforcement officers. When she made her posts, Lindsay…

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EMS Captain’s Facebook Post May Be Constitutionally Protected

Jamie Marquardt was a captain with City of Cleveland’s Department of Emergency Medical Services. Marquardt had a “private” Facebook page which did not identify him as a City employee. A little more than a year after a Cleveland police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a post appeared on Marquardt’s Facebook page: “Let me be the first on record to have the balls to say Tamir Rice should…

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Firefighter’s ‘Clueless Idiots’ Comment Not Protected By First Amendment

Larry Moreau, Jr., was a captain with the St. Landry Fire Protection District No. 3 in Louisiana. In May 2017, Moreau was accused of refusing to participate in a fire training exercise. At a pre-disciplinary hearing before the District’s Board, Moreau explained that he did not participate because of an on-the-job injury that he failed to report. The Board voted to issue Moreau a formal letter of reprimand, but…

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The First Amendment v. Whistleblower Laws

In Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the United States Supreme Court ruled that speech made as part of a public employee’s job has no First Amendment protection. However, the First Amendment is only one source of protection against improper discipline for engaging in speech. Protection against unfair discipline for speech can be found in the “just cause” provisions of collective bargaining agreements, in civil service laws, and…

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Officer’s Firing For Facebook Posts Upheld

Anthony Venable, who had been an officer with the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Police Department (MNPD) since 2007, engaged in a Facebook conversation regarding the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota. At the time, Venable was off-duty and the shooting had happened just the day before. During the course of the conversation, Venable posted a number of comments, including: “Yeah, I would have done 5,” in response to…

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Chief Wins $4.1 Million In Free Speech Lawsuit

Doug Greisen was the chief of police for the City of Scappoose, Oregon. In 2012, after more than ten years in that position, he became suspicious about the city’s accounting and budgeting practices. He worried Jon Hanken, the city manager, was hiding something. Greisen believed Hanken was suspiciously defensive about the budget, improperly delayed paying invoices at the end of the fiscal year and had weakened the city’s external…

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Firing Of Former Sheriff’s Wife Does Not Violate The First Amendment

Tamela Muir, Bert Muir, and Ben Boswell worked for the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) in Iowa. Tamela began working for the DCSO in November 1996 as a jailer and dispatcher. Her employment was at-will. Bert started working for the DCSO on March 19, 1998, when he was elected Sheriff. He hired Boswell as a Deputy Sheriff in September 2001. Tamela and Bert were married in January 2008, and…

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Barring Criticism Of City Is Unlawful ‘Prior Restraint’ Of Speech

Thelma Barone was a Community Service Officer II with the Springfield Police Department in Oregon. Barone focused on victim advocacy and served as a Department liaison to the City’s minority communities. Throughout her tenure, members of the Latino community complained to Barone about alleged racial profiling by the Department. She relayed these complaints to Department leadership. These complaints became more frequent beginning in the spring of 2013. Around that…

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Refusal To Change Report Not Protected Speech

Lorenzo Davis was a supervisor for Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority. The Authority investigated certain types of complaints against Chicago police, including domestic violence, excessive force, and death in police custody. After investigating such allegations, the Authority made a disciplinary recommendation to the Chicago Police in the form of a report. The report summarized the investigation and included findings on the alleged misconduct: namely, whether the allegations were “sustained,”…

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Internal Grievances Not Protected By The First Amendment

Booth James had worked for the Montgomery, Alabama Regional Airport Authority for approximately 15 years as a Third Shift Police Supervisor when he observed misconduct concerning the evidence impound of the Transportation Security Administration. After discussing these concerns with his supervisors and others, James sent a grievance letter to the Airport’s Board of Directors, detailing issues about public safety and falsified misconduct within the Airport Police Department. When the…

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Testimony In Court Not Always Constitutionally Protected

With the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Lane v. Franks, some believed that a firm rule had been established that the off-duty testimony in court by a public employee was absolutely constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, and could not be the basis for discipline. A recent decision from the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals shows that the lower courts are not giving such an expansive reading to…

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Fire Department’s Email Policy Violates First Amendment

Jonathan Sprague served as a firefighter, and eventually as a captain, for the Spokane Valley Fire Department (SVFD) in Washington. During his employment, Sprague and other SVFD employees formed the Spokane County Christian Firefighter Fellowship. Sprague created a list of work email addresses for 46 firefighters that he believed were interested in the Fellowship’s activities. Sprague began using SVFD’s email system to send emails about the Fellowship’s activities. SVFD’s…

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‘Quintessential Employee Beef’ Not Protected By First Amendment

Scottie Bagi and Gary Vojtush are firefighters and medics for the City of Parma, Ohio. The Department maintains a Tactical Emergency Medical Specialist (TEMS) unit consisting of specially trained firefighter medics who provide emergency medical support to the city police department’s SWAT team in high-risk situations. In the event of an injury, TEMS unit members treat the police first, then innocent bystanders, then criminals. In 2011, Bagi drafted a…

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Highway Patrol’s Overbroad Policies Violate Free Speech Rights

In 2011, Nevada Highway Patrol Major Kevin Tice sent an email to the members of the Patrol’s Canine Drug Interdiction Program. The email established a new policy on public comments about the Program, and provided: “As we reengage in K9 and interdiction program oversight at the regional command level, it is important to ensure appropriate flow of communication. It is critical that we identify and resolve issues and inconsistencies…

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Court Upholds Termination for Captain’s Trayvon Martin Facebook Post

Michael Snipes worked as a law enforcement captain with the Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue Department of Volusia County, Florida. Shortly before the events culminating in Snipe’s termination occurred, the Beach Patrol was involved in a public scandal involving adult employees and underage females which significantly, and negatively, affected its reputation in the community. Although Snipes was not involved in that scandal, he was aware of its impact on…

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Complaint About Fire Chief’s Nazi Behavior Given Mixed Protection

James Dumas is a firefighter at St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 3 in Louisiana, and is the vice-president of the firefighters’ union. In May 2016, the Union submitted a letter to the District’s Civil Service Board expressing a “vote of no confidence” in Fire Chief Patrick Sicard. The letter alleged that Sicard violated several provisions of civil service law, including failing to perform the duties of his position…

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Facebook Posts Cost Battalion Chief His Job

Kevin Buker was a battalion chief with the Howard County, Maryland Department of Fire and Rescue Services. In 2011, the Department developed a social media policy, in part in response to a racially-tinged Facebook post from a volunteer firefighter. The Policy prohibits employees “from posting or publishing statements, opinions or information that might reasonably be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent when such…

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Chief’s Secretary’s Affidavit Not Protected Speech

Firma Helget worked for the City of Hays, Kansas, as the administrative secretary for the Hays Police Department. One of Helget’s official duties was to act as the Department’s purchasing agent. In November 2010, she prepared a list of officers who were due new ballistic vests in the upcoming year. Helget presented the list to then-Assistant Police Chief Philip Hartsfield, who instructed her to remove Officer Blaine Dryden from…

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Firefighter Loses Job Over Family Dispute Between Supervisors

Glen Naghtin was a firefighter for the Montague, Michigan Fire Department. Two brothers, Donald and Dennis Roesler, also worked for the Department. Donald was a unit captain and Dennis was the Fire Chief. In 2009, the Fire District’s Board authorized the construction of a new fire station. After construction had commenced, Donald Roesler began expressing concerns about the structure, including numerous fire-code violations and deviations from the station’s planned…

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Racial Facebook Post Not Constitutionally Protected

Adam Meadors was a police officer for the Meridian, Mississippi Police Department. Meadors posted to his public Facebook page a photo depicting two chimpanzees laughing with the following caption: “Earlier today, the mayor and the chief of police had a meeting.” He commented on the photo, saying: “Something will probably be said, but I couldn’t resist.” After a few minutes, however, he removed the photo. Meadors was on duty…

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Social Networking Policy Violates Free Speech Rights

Herbert Liverman and Vance Richards were veteran police officers for the City of Petersburg, Virginia. In April 2013, the Police Chief issued a general order revising the Department’s social networking policy. The preface to the revised policy prohibited in sweeping terms the dissemination of any information “that would tend to discredit or reflect unfavorably upon the Department or any other City of Petersburg Department or its employees.” The central…

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Fire Chief Loses Free Speech Claim

Jonah Holbrook was the Fire Chief for the Village of Lincoln Heights, Ohio. In 2014, the Village received notification that its liability insurance coverage would be terminated. The termination was due to the number of claims made against the Village in the prior 14 years. Over that time frame, the amount of losses covered by the insurance pool in which the Village participated totaled $1,282,815, which far exceeded the…

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No-Confidence Votes A Risky Proposition In Non-Union States

Under the rule in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the First Amendment only protects the speech of public employees if they “speak as a citizen on a matter of public concern.” In a union environment, there is little question but that a no-confidence vote on the performance of a chief is protected speech, and is a matter of public concern. However, a very different result can be…

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