Roadkill on the Info Highway - Technology and Communications - LawOfficer.com

Roadkill on the Info Highway

7 real-life examples of cops who found themselves under the bus for what they posted online

 


 

Valerie Van Brocklin | Monday, February 14, 2011

For the past two months, we’ve looked at officers’ on-duty and off-duty use of social media and Internet postings (see links below), including:
 

  • Their rights and responsibilities;
  • The limits to their free speech;
  • What comments may get them sued for defamation; and
  • What comments may get them disciplined, including fired.

Now we’re going to look at some stories of real cops who hadn’t figured out ahead of time what we’ve been talking about here. If you like happy endings, you may not wish to proceed.

Bikini Wearing Cop vs. Bikini Wearing Cop Car
Can a bikini get you fired? That may depend on how and where you wear it.

Let’s say one of you is a female deputy sheriff. In your off-duty time you philanthropically participate in a charity bikini car wash fundraiser wearing, well, a skimpy bikini. The fundraiser is marketed as Tits-n-Tats. The event also features employees from a topless strip club.

The other of you is a male police officer who takes his private car to the fundraiser, then decides to take his patrol car. A photo of your patrol car with the scantily-clad car washers draped on the hood surfaces on Facebook.

This happened in Moncks Corner, S.C—population 7,044. The ending is a mixed bag. No job action was taken against the deputy sheriff. A statement issued by the Sheriff’s Office said, “She was involved in the event as a private citizen and did not violate the law, BC [Berkley County] SO or county’s policies.”

The police officer is out of a job. It’s unknown if he was fired or asked to resign. His chief said there were policies governing take-home cruisers and allowing bikini-clad women to be photographed next to one violated those policies.

I ask you, dear readers, if you think the punishment would’ve been the same if the photo hadn’t been circulated on Facebook, thus garnering public attention? That is, would the officer have been fired for violating the policies governing the use of take-home cruisers if the violation had been known only within the department and hadn’t made it onto the Internet?

They Weren’t Thinking
An Indiana state trooper resigned and an Indianapolis Metro PD Officer was suspended for what all would agree were some stupid postings on the trooper’s personal Facebook page.

The trooper bragged about heavy drinking and posted photos of his banged-up patrol car with the comment, “Oops! Where did my front end go?” Perhaps the most infamous photo showed the police officer friend holding a gun to the trooper’s head as he described drinking lots of beer with his buddies.

The trooper also weighed in on his work and people who resist arrest. He referred to himself as a “garbage man” and “I pick up trash for a living.” Commenting on an incident in which Fresno police officers punched a homeless man during his arrest, the trooper posted, “Let someone, homeless or not, try and stab me … he’ll probably end up shot. These people should have died when they were young anyway, I’m just doing them a favor.”

According to a major with the ISP, the state’s biggest concern was that the trooper may have been Facebooking on duty. I’m biting my keyboard here. How does personal use of a computer (not unlike a personal phone call) on department time rise above concern about the content here? Maybe it’s because, in the absence of any specific social media policy, using a computer for personal communication on tax payer time was the only violation.

Asked what the trooper and IMPD officer could have been thinking, an IMPD sergeant spokesperson said, “They weren’t thinking. It was an error in judgment…so now there has to be accountability and that’s what we’re doing.”

With MySpace Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?
A well-known roadkill on the information highway was Lexington Officer Joshua Cromer, who stopped and arrested country singing star John Michael Montgomery. Montgomery ended up charged with DUI, possessing a controlled drug and two counts of carrying a concealed weapon.

Friends, mostly fellow cops, congratulated Cromer on his MySpace page and made fun of Montgomery by posting a doctored photo portraying Cromer as an adoring fan.

Complaints about Cromer’s site sparked the brass into checking out other officers’ MySpace pages. The pages contained disparaging comments about the citizenry, gays and the mentally disabled. Cromer was dismissed and five of his MySpace friends were suspended.

Montgomery copped a plea to just the DUI charge with a $660 fine and court costs. If you don’t think his attorneys’ subpoena for the officers’ MySpace pages had anything to do with that deal, I’ve got some costume jewelry I’d like to show you.
 
Detective’s Facebook Comments Targeted by Gun Advocates
An East Palo Alto detective came under fire for posting disparaging Facebook comments about gun advocates carrying unloaded weapons. The California gun law at issue apparently prohibits carrying a concealed weapon without a license but permits open display of a firearm in a holster, but it’s illegal for the gun to be loaded in most cases.



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Valerie Van BrocklinValerie Van Brocklin is an internationally sought speaker, trainer and author who combines a dynamic presentation style with years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor.

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