Ex-police officer learning consequences of social media misuse

December 10, 2013

Legal Affairs

It seems a rather simple proposition — use social media wisely or face the consequences. Yet, there continues to be a lack of awareness as to the ramifications of social media misuse and what constitutes legally protected free speech.

A former Delta police officer is learning that the hard way.

A federal judge has ruled against a former police officer who argued in a lawsuit that Greenville officials violated her free speech rights by firing her over comments posted on a social networking site.

Former Sgt. Susan Graziosi was fired in May 2012 after publishing posts on Facebook criticizing Police Chief Freddie Cannon’s decision not to send department representatives to the funeral for Pearl police officer Mike Walter, who was killed in the line of duty that month.

According to the lawsuit, the posting to the mayor’s Facebook page read: “Dear Mayor, can we please get a leader that understands that a department sends officers (to) the funeral of an officer killed in the line of duty?”

She posted further comments directed at Cannon, writing “. we had somethings (sic) then that we no longer have..LEADERS. . If (Cannon) suddenly decided ‘we couldn’t afford the gas’ (how absurd — I would be embarrassed as chief to make that statement) he should have let us know so we could have gone ourselves” and “if you don’t want to lead, can you just get the hell out of the way.”

The lawsuit was filed against the city, then-Mayor Chuck Jordan and Cannon.

“This became an issue because instead of speaking to the face of those involved, she used Facebook,” Mayor John Cox said.

The Delta Democrat Times reports that U.S. District Judge Michael Mills ruled this past week that Graziosi’s venting on Facebook was not accorded First Amendment protection.

Mills said Graziosi had a chain of command she could have used to raise her concerns about Cannon’s decision.

“The statement was questioning the leadership of the police chief due to her frustration with recent decisions he had made and it was made from her perspective as a disgruntled police officer, not a concerned citizen,” Mills wrote.

“Ms. Graziosi did not speak out about any issue that related to the public safety or trust they had in the GPD but rather an internal decision of the department.”

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