Free Speech Battle Shaping Up Over San Jose PD Facebook Posts

An angry Facebook post directed at San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis has led to three San Jose police officers being investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs division.

On Oct. 28, officer Tim Ramos posted the following to his personal Facebook page: “Today officers put down flowers at Fontana park on the anniversary of Officer Fontana being killed in the line of duty at Almaden Valley….And Councilmember Johnny Khamis was nowhere to be found. He represents that area but I guess he had better things to do.”

The status update has so far resulted in 13 comments, some of which were posted under the Facebook accounts of two other SJPD officers, Rick Foster and Robert McAlavey. In the first comment, Foster writes, “F that POS!”

The officers’ comments appear to be in conflict with the San Jose Police Department’s policy on social media. Although not in the Duty Manual, a 2009 memo from former Police Chief Rob Davis outlines the department’s policy on social media. “A member’s conduct, either on or off duty, which adversely reflects upon the Department will be deemed conduct unbecoming an officer,” Davis wrote. “Each case of misconduct will be examined to determine if the act was such that a reasonable person would find such conduct was unbecoming a police officer.”

The memo adds that “the Department has a right to regulate speech in certain circumstances which could result in discipline.”

Khamis, whose Facebook page was linked in the post, responded to the officers later that day. “I was not invited and was not aware of the presentation,” he wrote. “I would appreciate the benefit of the doubt.”

This set off more comments from Foster and Ramos

“As a council person concerned about the police dept. you should know the date an officer had fallen protecting your neighborhood,” Ramos wrote. “Nancy pile was never reminded but there every time. But I’m sure your too busy trying to figure out after measure B is found illegal how your going to spin it. Reed will be gone soon so who is going to shovel all the lies to you to spread? Just keep your head in the sand when it comes to public safety.” (sic)

Nancy Pyle was the previous councilmember for Almaden and District 10, and Khamis is in his first term since winning last year’s election to succeed her. He ran on a platform supporting pension reform and Measure B.

Later in the post, Ramos admits that it was a “quiet ceremony” without “cameras or political points to score.”

“It’s every year chief,” he adds. “Put it in your busy calander between photo ops and polishing Reeds shoes.” (sic)

Heather Randol, a police information officer with SJPD, confirmed Tuesday morning that Internal Affairs is investigating the three officers. While she could not provide any details on the investigation, the timing of the post and comments—which are time and date stamped—could be an issue. SJPD officers are not allowed to post to social media while on duty.

“Additionally, Department members are reminded that City Policy Manual Chapter 1.6.2 prohibits employees from using City cell phones, computers or other City-owned equipment for personal use or private business,” Davis’ memo reads. “Therefore, employees may be subject to discipline for such actions. Members should also be reminded that accessing social networking sites for personal use while on-duty is a violation of Duty Manual Section C 1432, which prohibits employees from devoting any on-duty time to any activity that doesn’t relate to a police function.”

Khamis’ chief of staff, Shane Patrick Connolly, says the Facebook comments are “absolutely inappropriate.”

“We don’t have any problem if somebody disagrees with us—people have the right to free speech,” he adds. “But it really reflects poorly on the department to use vulgarities at the councilmember in a public forum. It’s not conduct that is becoming of anyone who is representing the city.”

This isn’t the first time SJPD officers’ use of social media has come into question. Last year, Mayor Chuck Reed received a traffic ticketthat was leaked to the media and posted to Twitter.

Below is the full Facebook post and comments:
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From San Jose Inside