Officer Jeremy Layman recently had his employment terminated with the Peoria Police Department as a result of misusing social media. A department spokesperson did not elaborate on the specifics. Layman drew attention in the community after posting some potentially controversial comments of a racial and political nature. Police Chief Jerry Mitchell received a wave of complaints prior to relieving Layman of his duties. He was employed with the department for 17 years and had previously received commendations such as a certificate for saving a life and an award for combat valor.
According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 70% of Americans use social media. The American Bar Association defines social media as being electronic communication among user communities to “share information, ideas, messages, and content such as video.” Some of the common platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram. By the end of this year, the number of users is expected to surpass 2.5 billion internationally.
Alleged Details of the Postings
Officer Layman's Facebook post referenced his participation in BDRT, or the “Baby Daddy Removal Team.” In another exchange, Layman stated that Kroger grocery stores were closing because of excessive theft in lower-income areas. One comment allegedly labeled all those in South Peoria as being Democrats, bringing complaints from the NAACP. Chama St. Louis, a local activist, told the Peoria Journal Star she felt the Peoria Police Department took the appropriate action for the interests of the community.
Rita Ali, representing a police-community relations committee, explained the police engage with the public on a daily basis and the public has difficulty accepting officers who are not sensitive to all races. The message resonated among her community that “bias and racism” are not tolerated by those who protect and serve. Rev. Martin Johnson of the Greater Peoria Area Clergy says the community is attempting to “bridge” relations with law enforcement and such acts hinder progress.
Peoria City Employee Handbook Excerpts
The city's employee handbook says engaging in “immoral or indecent” conduct that may hurt the city's reputation are not tolerated and may be grounds for termination or other disciplinary action. The city is currently finalizing their Social Media Policy, which states that social media brings both “risks and responsibilities.” All employees are encouraged to maintain their postings in a manner that is compliant with the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Policy. Comments deemed inappropriate include those concerning age, disability, gender, race, religion, and others.
Similar Recent Incidents
Inappropriate social media usage by public employees has occurred in many places across the country recently, such as in the following examples.
- A police officer in Nashville, Tennessee, was terminated after commenting on a story of a motorist who was shot by police four times. The officer stated that he would have shot the man five times.
- In the Austin, Texas area, a fire department captain received a suspension following postings of controversial political views about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
- In Mount Vernon, New York, a lieutenant of a fire department received a suspension following postings that expressed support for an individual who killed several police officers in a sniper-style attack.
Legal & Employment Implications
In the American Bar Association Journal recently, legal experts addressed matters regarding postings on social media by public employees. Paul Secunda, a law professor at Marquette University, says that despite the right to free speech, public employers may take disciplinary action against employees. Police officers are expected to demonstrate professional conduct reflecting the norms; however, there is debate regarding the ability for the government to take disciplinary action as a result of free speech occurring off-duty within one's home. An attorney who practices employment law in Rhode Island said that public employees should have an opportunity to “vent,” yet comments regarding race, gender, and such are not consistent with service to “everyone in the community.”
Peoria Employment Law Attorneys
The legal team at Benassi & Benassi has advocated for clients in Central Illinois in cases involving employment law for over three decades. We are prepared to pursue your best interests in matters such as discrimination, wrongful discharge, sexual harassment, and much more. Contact our office at (309) 674-3556 for a consultation today.