Michigan CO sues department over monitoring his Facebook

Prison officials began investigating the officer after he posted a video to Facebook showing an inmate assault him

By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press
LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan corrections officer who posted a video on Facebook showing him receive a "sucker punch" from an inmate, sued the Michigan Department of Corrections Wednesday, alleging prison officials are violating his free speech rights by investigating him over the post.

Earl Booth, a veteran officer at the Charles E. Egeler Reception & Guidance Center near Jackson, says the department's social media policy violates First Amendment protections against "prior restraint" of speech.

Booth wants a judge to declare the social media policy unconstitutional, halt the investigation, and prohibit prison officials from "Big Brother" monitoring of his off-work social media activity.

"Public employees ... do not forfeit all their First Amendment rights when accepting government employment," says the complaint, drafted by Hemlock attorney Philip Ellison.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the department, Director Heidi Washington and Scott Fink, an internal affairs investigator.

Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the department, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

The video from prison security cameras, which Booth posted as a public post to Facebook last March along with commentary related to how actions of another prison employee could have placed him in danger, captured a December 2019 assault on Booth that resulted in criminal charges against the inmate.

In the lawsuit, Booth says Fink told him that posted materials obtained through an employee's official duties may not have First Amendment protections under the department's 2020 social media policy.

But Booth says the video he posted, introduced as evidence in the criminal case against the prisoner who struck him, was obtained by him through the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office, not through his duties at work.

Fink told Booth the social media policy prohibits posts that could reflect negatively on the corrections department or that discredit the department or its employees, according to the lawsuit.

Such a policy "blatantly and obviously violates the First Amendment," the suit alleges.

Booth has clashed with prison officials before over social media posts and over Michigan Freedom of Information Act requests he has sent to the department.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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