Two Columbus firefighters and a Columbus police officer have been suspended for 30 days after they “liked” a Facebook post made by a former firefighter.
The three were suspended Tuesday night after a lengthy, and at times contentious, executive session of the mayor and city council.
Firefighters Damon Estes and Erik Minga and police officer Lance Luckey “liked” a comment posted by former firefighter Brad Alexander.
Alexander made a post on his Facebook page where he voiced frustration after a 2-year-old child was hit by a car. Alexander’s post was reported to have questioned the whereabouts of the child’s mother at the time of the accident.
The post reportedly attracted several comments along with multiple “likes” before it was brought to the attention of Alexander’s battalion chief and fire chief Ken Moore. Alexander and Moore met with mayor Robert Smith and members of the city council last Monday to discuss the post and potential disciplinary action.
The Facebook post has since been removed and Alexander, a 12-year veteran of the department, has resigned.
The events unfolded in executive session but multiple sources said both firefighters Estes and Minga wrote letters of apology to the mayor and council. Those sources also claim Moore recommended 30-day suspensions for the two.
Chief of Police Selvain McQueen also reportedly recommended a 30-day suspension for Luckey. Luckey reportedly voiced his objections to the suspension, telling the mayor and council that he read the update from his cell phone and did not see the entire status update or the comments left underneath by various Facebook users.
The council debated for over an hour before coming to a split decision.
In two separate votes, one for the firefighters and one for Luckey, Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor, Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens and Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart voted to uphold both Moore and McQueen’s recommendation to suspend the three for 30 days.
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin voted against the decision to suspend the men.
Smith broke both ties, casting his vote to suspend Estes, Minga, and Luckey.
The three can appeal their suspensions to the Civil Service Commission.
Many who support the men question if the mayor and council had the authority to suspend the three for what many see as exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.
The City of Columbus does not have a specific policy regarding Facebook posts, a matter which councilman Karriem thinks should be addressed sooner rather than later. Karriem said social media in the workplace is a “new frontier” and said guidelines should be put in place to establish what is appropriate and what is not.
“I didn’t feel (the suspensions) were merited,” Karriem said. ” I didn’t understand why they would get suspended and nobody could tell me why (they should.)”
A similar incident occurred that occurred in Virginia is making its way through appellate court.
In 2009, six deputies were fired for “liking” a campaign page for a man running for sheriff. The incumbent sheriff took issue with his deputies’ apparent support of his political rival and the deputies were fired soon after the sheriff was re-elected.
The deputies sued, claiming they were protected under the First Amendment, but a Virginia District Court disagreed and ruled against the deputies. The deputies are now appealing the judgement.
McQueen declined to comment on Tuesday’s action by the council. Neither Moore nor Smith could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.