A Flint, Michigan, police officer who was fired over comments he made on his personal Facebook page plans to sue the City of Flint for wrongful termination as he feels it is within his First Amendment rights to express his opinion.
“Keep purging society of the maggots,” Officer Robert Garceau wrote in response to a post about a recent double-shooting that took place in Flint. "2 less welfare, food stamp people. Keep it up."
The City of Flint said they fired Garceau because his comment violated their social media policy.
Garceau’s attorney, Tom Pabst, says his client and his Facebook posts are protected by the First Amendment.
"What are they, the speech police?" Pabst told WJRT. "You can’t fire a guy for expressing his opinions like that."
“They are citing that he posted something on social media that they felt was inappropriate and they claim was a violation of rules and regulations," the attorney said.
Pabst claims Garceau was not on duty when he wrote the comment, but police chief James Tolbert says he was and that the comment was actually made on a public Facebook page — not Garceau’s private page.
"It came to us because someone sent it to us who saw it on a public page," Tolbert said. "We don't monitor our officers' Facebook pages, we don't have their passwords, we don't break into them as I've heard allegations have been made. No. This was from a citizen who saw this, was so taken aback by it that they decided to make us aware of it and that's what started the ball rolling on the investigation."
Tolbert said there were two inappropriate comments made; the first, referring to "maggots," was written while Garceau was on duty, and the second when he was not.
"Let's have another stop the violence rally LOL,” Garceau’s second comment allegedly read.
Tolbert said Garceau violated the department’s social media policy and also the department’s code of conduct, MLive reports.
"Officer Garceau's comments were mean and divisive and promote violence at a time when our community is struggling to cope with many senseless, violent acts including acts against an innocent 1-year-old and his 70-year-old godmother," Tolbert said.
Regardless of what rules Tolbert says Garceau violated, Pabst argues they do not “trump the United States Constitution.”
"If he speaks as a citizen and he's fired for it, it's a violation of the First Amendment and I think that's exactly what we have here," Pabst said. "The chief can write all the little rules and regulations that he wants, but being the chief of police in the city of Flint, that doesn't give him the right or authority to trump the United States Constitution."
Garceau’s wrongful termination lawsuit will seek being reinstated as a police officer.
“They think they’re above the law, but they’re not,” Pabst said. “They are going to find out they’re not.”