Injunction sought to stop Harris County Sheriff from infringing on First Amendment with social media policy

By David Yates | Dec 3, 2014

A Harris County Sheriff’s deputy is seeking a preliminary injunction in a suit alleging his First Amendment rights are being violated because of a restrictive social media policy put in place by his boss.

As previously reported, Deputy Carl Pittman filed a lawsuit against Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Aug. 8 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas.

According to the original petition, Garcia enacted a social media policy July 16 that would apply to Pittman and all other employees of the Harris Count Sheriff’s Office.

The policy’s purpose is to “place reasonable restrictions on the conduct of our employees and our appearances in person and in print, as well as holding all personnel to a greater standard of conduct, whether on or off duty.”

The policy also states that social media communications by HCSO employees “must never conflict with our core values, our mission or our law enforcement code of ethics.”

In his suit, Pittman contends the policy prevents employees from engaging in negative speech about the HCSO or its personnel. He alleges this limits his ability to speak out as a citizen on matters of public concern whether that speech is damaging to the HCSO or not.

Court records show Pittman filed a motion for preliminary injunction on Sept. 30, arguing the Supreme Court has “long recognized that public employees have the right to speak as citizens about their public employer.”

Pittman further contends the policy even prevents Pittman and other employees from identifying themselves as employees of the HCSO, even though the sheriff himself does this through various social media outlets.

“The Policy is overbroad and must be reformed within the strictures of the Constitution,” the motion states. “Pittman asks this Court to grant a preliminary injunction, and to stop Defendant from unlawfully restricting his First Amendment rights.”

Garcia responded to the motion on Oct. 16, arguing that Pittman has not demonstrated that complying with the social media policy will affect his exercise of First Amendment rights or cause him significant harm.

He asks that the court deny the motion and award him court costs.

Attorney Edwin Sullivan, of Houston’s Oberti Sullivan law firm, represents Pittman.

Houston attorney Julie Countiss represents Garcia.

Case No. 4:14-CV-02376

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