A Las Vegas corrections officer has blasted his employer in a federal lawsuit that accuses the Metropolitan Police Department of implementing an “unconstitutionally vague” social media policy.
Clark County Detention Center officer John Sabatini was fired last year after the department’s internal affairs division received an anonymous complaint about his Facebook posts. He was rehired several months later after arbitration proceedings.
But the employment grievance victory was not enough for Sabatini. On Friday, he sued the police department, accusing it of infringing on his First and 14th Amendments rights to freedom of expression and due process.
“This is a case about the government terminating one of its employees because it disapproved of the content of his speech, and using an unconstitutionally vague policy regulating speech that affords the government unlimited discretion to punish employees when they feel like it,” attorneys for Sabatini wrote in the complaint.
A Metro spokesman said the department does not comment on pending litigation. The spokesman said Sabatini was hired in 2002.
The lawsuit aims to compel the department to change its social media policy. It does not provide any details about the social media posts that caused the department to take disciplinary action against Sabatini.
“The issue is not what he was fired for,” said Las Vegas attorney Mark Randazza, who filed the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, internal affairs investigators reviewed the anonymous complaint and recommended Sabatini’s employment be terminated. The lawsuit states that Sabatini did not identify himself as a county employee on his Facebook profile, nor did he reference his employer in any of the Facebook posts reviewed by investigators.
Lawyers wrote in the filing that the Police Department’s social media policy “fails to inform a person of ordinary intelligence what conduct is permitted or not permitted” and “prohibits various forms of protected speech without a reasonable basis.” They assert that enforcement of the policy is “arbitrary and discriminatory.”
“Mr. Sabatini’s goal is to change the policy so that the department respects all of these officers’ constitutional rights,” Randazza said.
Contact Jenny Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.
“Any purported interest of Defendant in promoting the efficiency of its public services did not outweigh Mr. Sabatini’s free speech rights as related to the statements at issue.” — lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department
August 2015 — Anonymous complaint filed against John Sabatini.
May 2016 — Sabatini fired.
September 2016 — Sabatini rehired.
April 2017 — Sabatini sues department, claiming violations of his First and 14th Amendment rights.