A Harris County sheriff's deputy, Carl Pittman, sued Sheriff Adrian Garcia in federal court, alleging the sheriff's recently enacted social media policy violates the First Amendment. Pittman says it's overreaching and limits his right to free speech. Pittman, a deputy under Garcia ran for Harris County Sherriff in 2012.
Attorney for Carl Pittman Ed Sullivan told KTRH that public employers cannot put these kind of restrictions on their employees, and that the Lawsuit filed is asking for an injunction on the current social media policy put in place in July by the HCSO.
In part the policy reads "The HCSO personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships of the HCSO." It also says the speech should not negatively affect "the public perception of the HCSO."
In Response to the lawsuit, the sheriff’s office released the following statement:
"As a 21st century-leading law enforcement agency, the Harris County Sheriff's Office recognizes the power and value of social media as an important communication tool. As such, we use social media actively to inform the community on public safety matters, to create awareness, and promote the achievement of HCSO employees, among other things.
Major law enforcement agency's across the nation have instituted similar policies. The HCSO's social media policy was modeled after researching and reviewing other similar policies, and parallels the conduct expected of all HCSO employees as outlined in the HCSO's code of ethics, and standard departmental policies.
Just as we urge the general public to take common sense measures when using social media for the safety of their children, their families and property, it is important that we be concerned about the security and integrity of our HCSO employees when using social media.
As public servants striving to achieve and maintain the public's highest level of trust and respect, there must be reasonable expectations on how social media is used and how that may reflect on the Harris County Sheriff's Office, and the ability of our employees to conduct their important work in the community. It has been long accepted and expected that public employees are held to a greater standard of conduct, whether on or off duty.
Planned with the release of the HCSO's social media policy is training, precisely to educate HCSO personnel on the importance of social media use and security."