Deputy claims social media policy violates his rights

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A deputy has filed a complaint in federal court claiming the new Harris County Sheriff's Office social media policy violates his civil rights.

Deputy Carl Pittman is suing Sheriff Adrian Garcia because of the department's social media policy. Pittman says it's overreaching and limits his right to free speech.

The policy went into effect in July. It states in part, "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."

The 15-page policy goes on to say employees are prohibited from posting HCSO logos or badges or personal photographs that may cause them to be identified as HCSO employees.

Approximately 4,000 people work for the Harris County Sheriff's Office. Some have told us they've had to scrub their social media accounts of any reference to their employer.

In response to the lawsuit, the Sheriff's Office sent Eyewitness News this 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."

Pittman was a candidate for Sheriff in the 2012 Republican primary. He maintains this lawsuit is about a violation of his civil rights and nothing else.
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