Abbeville officials and a civil liberties organization have reached a tentative settlement in a lawsuit seeking to halt a policy that restricts Police Department employees’ personal use of social media websites.
On behalf of Abbeville Police Sgt. Colt Landry, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana last September sued the city, Mayor Mark Piazza and Police Chief Tony Hardy over the policy, which bans officers from using social media to create or engage with negative postings about the Police Department and city officials, employees and residents.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna on Monday ordered a dismissal in the federal case, offering a 60-day window for the parties to get the settlement finalized on paper.
Marjorie Esman, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU, declined comment on the pending agreement’s terms until the settlement is signed and sealed with the court.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Esman said on Thursday.
Piazza and Hardy both were unavailable for comment on Thursday afternoon.
At issue in the case is a policy enacted in August 2013 known as General Order 222. It bans officers from posting, liking, sharing or commenting upon anything “which will give a negative view” toward the city and its employees.
It also prohibits officers from posting “insulting or derogatory comments” about the public; from engaging in any negative way about any racial, ethnic, sexual or religious group; and from using social media, including private messaging, while on the job.
Lawyers working on Landry’s behalf argued the policy is vague and hinders an officer’s First Amendment right “from participating in any manner on all forms of social media if there is any possibility whatsoever that their speech or actions” could be considered a “negative view” toward those listed in the policy.
Lawyers for the city denied all the claims without further comment.
The matter first arose when Landry’s employer reprimanded him for sharing a photo in July 2014 of a Memphis firefighter holding a sign decrying his local city council, with an additional comment from Landry saying the Abbeville Police Department needs better equipment, pay and manpower, according to the lawsuit.
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