PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A Phoenix police sergeant who claims he's being unfairly targeted because of things he posted on social media has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Phoenix
"Police officers, teachers, firefighters should still be allowed to talk about stories they see in the news, or issues coming up that are concerning to the public," said Steve Serbalik, the lawyer representing Sgt. Juan Hernandez. "Just because they work for the government doesn't mean they should lose their rights to be able to talk about those issues."
Hernandez is one of 75 Phoenix police officers recently flagged in a national database for having questionable Facebook posts -- things that could be considered racially biased.
Those officers are now under internal investigation to determine whether any disciplinary action should be taken.
"There is no room for bias in policing," Serbalik said. "What we have here is a police sergeant that just reported issues that were in the news at the time he posted them, and that's his right to do that."
Viridiana Hernandez, the executive director of Poder Action, a grassroots group that addresses concerns in minority communities, believes social media posts can affect public perception of a person. She says when officer posts something that's racially insensitive, it chips away at the trust of the people they're sworn to protect.
"Anyone re-posting something is an endorsement of that statement, or of that video," Hernandez said. "If it's racist or sexist, whatever it may be, you're endorsing that kind of language and culture. That questions the integrity of that officer to do their job in a fair manner."
The sergeant's lawsuit calls the Phoenix Police Department's social media policy unconstitutional and demands that the agency stop enforcing it immediately.
Sgt. Tommy Thompson released a written statement Friday night explaining that the Phoenix Police Department's Professional Standards Bureau has wrapped up its investigation and has referred some officers to the Disciplinary Review Board.
He also said a court action "hits the 'pause' button" on the process for one employee, noting that the action is "not a ruling on whether misconduct took place."
PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT'S STATEMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA POST INVESTIGATION
"This summer, we had a high-profile incident involving social media posts from several employees of the Phoenix Police Department. This case attracted wide-spread (sic) media attention and rightfully the public demanded answers. For the last several months, officers from the Department’s Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) have been examining evidence to determine if there was employee misconduct. This process is now complete and the PSB has referred some officers to the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB).
"There will now be a delay in the process for one specific employee scheduled to appear before the Disciplinary Review Board. Today a judge took a procedural action on a Temporary Restraining Order that essentially hits the "pause" button on the disciplinary process for that employee. The decision was not a ruling on whether misconduct took place. Rather it sets a timeline for approaching the case. We support the court's decision and want the judge to have the appropriate time to examine the important issues with complete and accurate information.
"In the meantime, we will act expeditiously to resolve the other cases. The Disciplinary Review Board involves a board made up of peers, police department leaders and members of the community who make a recommendation to the Police Chief. The Police Chief reviews the findings and decides what disciplinary action to take. There are still further appeals available to the employees including the Civil Service Board. This five-member community board has the authority to reinstate a terminated employee or reduce discipline.
"Throughout this process, we have also closely examined our social media policy as it relates to employees of the Phoenix Police Department. Our robust policy is a living, breathing document that continues to evolve with ever changing new technologies. We review it routinely and will update as needed."