A Facebook post by Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton is not a violation of the city’s social media policy, according to City Attorney Jeff Turnage.
Shelton shared a post on Facebook on Sunday morning from “Wake Up Now” that showed a black soldier with the caption, “RIP to all the black soldiers that died fighting for a country that never fought for them.”
A screenshot was posted to the “Mississippi Corruption” Facebook group with a comment about the city suspending other officers for their social media posts. Numerous community members contacted the Packet with complaints and allegations that the post violates the city’s social media policy.
Not so, said Turnage.
“This looks like classic political speech to me, and not speech that would be subject to discipline,” Turnage said. “The key issue is whether it is addressing a public concern, and if it is, it is political speech and so protected. It could be that (members of the public) disagree with what he said, but I would say it is protected all the way.
“Even if the (personnel handbook) contemplated discipline I would advise against it,” he added.
The post does not “in the least” create a hostile work environment, he said.
Shelton, who serves in the Army Reserve, said the post meant to honor his fellow soldiers, and was not meant to be hurtful or harmful in any way.
“I have served my country for 37 years and I understand the plight of the black soldier. I shared that with friends of mine (who are also soldiers),” he said. “That picture shows a Vietnam-era soldier. The historic truth of the matter is that when those men came home they were called baby-killers, they were treated like second-class citizens. It wasn’t like today, they didn’t get proper care and support.
“I did not mean any hurt or harm,” he said.
The city’s policy cautions employees not to make posts that “reasonably could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatning or intimidating, that disparage customers, co-employees, suppliers or that might constitute harassment or bullying. Examples of such conduct might include offensive posts meant to intentionally harm someone’s reputation or posts that could contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion or any other status protected by law or municipal policy.”
Officers have been disciplined for their social media conduct in the past. Patrolman Jared Booth was suspended for 28 days last year after he made posts that featured a racial slur; that alleged a former CPD officer was gay; and a post with a suggestive comment and a picture of a phallic popsicle in which he tagged a female coworker. One of the reasons given for terminating former patrolman Canyon Boykin in the aftermath of the Ricky Ball shooting was a series of social media posts that the city alleged violated the social media policy.
In 2012 two firefighters and a CPD officer were suspended for 30 days after “liking” a Facebook post made by a former firefighter.