COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — The city’s right to protect its image and integrity outweighs an employee’s right to free speech.
That was the decision Monday as the Columbus Civil Service Commission unanimously upheld police officer Lance Luckey’s 30-day suspension. The City Council narrowly — it was split 3-3 and Mayor Robert Smith broke the tie — ordered the suspension earlier this month because Luckey ‘liked’ a city firefighter’s post on Facebook that many took as derogatory toward the 17-year-old mother of a 2-year-old struck by a truck.
During today’s appeal hearing, Luckey, a 33-year-old father of two children, argued he didn’t read the entire post before ‘liking’ it via his cell phone and was just exercising a right to free speech. He said if he’d read the entire post, he probably would not have ‘liked’ it but would have called firefighter Chad Alexander, who made the original post, directly.
But the city said the post damaged morale and the city’s image with the public.
“They take an oath not to be disrespectful or discourteous to the public or their fellow employees. It cannot be tolerated,” testified Fire Chief Ken Moore, who initiated the case after being told about the firefighter’s original post the day after it happened.
“This man, without a doubt, is being punished for a comment which we contend is speech,” Luckey’s attorney, Tim Hudson told the Commission. “…I heard nothing today other than speculation, that it hurt morale or efficiency.”
Moore initially recommended a 30-day suspension and counseling for Alexander, but city officials said that wasn’t harsh enough. The 12-year veteran firefighter then resigned. Two other firefighters, Derek Estes and Eric Minga, who ‘liked’ the post, did not contest their 30-day suspensions and issued apologies to the city.
Luckey has 30 days to appeal the decision to Circuit Court.