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Is Tallahassee Police Department Violating City Watchdog’s Free Speech?

Is Tallahassee Police Department Violating City Watchdog’s Free Speech?

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: October 16, 2012 3:55 AM | SunshineStateNews.Com


Tallahassee Police Officer Annette Garrett, Badge #640 And Violated Citizen Rob Brayshaw 


A Tallahassee police officer is the defendant in yet another civil suit, this one alleging that she “willful[ly] and malicious[ly]” violated the First Amendment rights of a local activist.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, says that Officer Annette Garrett used computers owned by the Tallahassee Police Department to delete unflattering information posted by city watchdog Robert Brayshaw on websites like scribd.com, slideshare.com, calameo.com, and Wikipedia.

According to the suit, these deletions constitute “willful and malicious” violations of Brayshaw’s First and 14th Amendment free speech rights.

Brayshaw is no stranger to suing city police officers. He made history in 2010 when one such suit resulted in the Northern District Court striking down, as unconstitutional, a Florida statute which criminalized “maliciously … publish[ing] or disseminat[ing] the residence address or telephone number of any law enforcement officer while designating the officer as such, without authorization of the agency which employs the officer.”

In 2007, Brayshaw had been investigated for allegedly trespassing on a residence for which he was the property manager. No charges were filed in that case, and Brayshaw believed Garrett acted rudely, abusively, and unprofessionally in her investigation of him. And in 2008 he said so in entries on RateMyCop.com, an online forum for citizens to express their opinions on police officers. Brayshaw published information already publicly available over the Internet, including Garrett’s home address, personal email address, cell phone number, and marital status.

Brayshaw was arrested following his posting, charged with violating the aforementioned statute. The charge was dismissed in 2009.

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, Brayshaw sued the police department and challenged the constitutionality of the statute in federal court. He prevailed, the judge ruling that the law he was charged under was “unconstitutional on its face” because “[m]erely publishing an officer’s address and phone number, even with intent to intimidate, is not a ‘true threat’ as defined in constitutional law jurisprudence.”

The court went on to note, “[t]he publication of truthful personal information about police officers is linked to the issue of police accountability through aiding in achieving service of process, researching criminal history of officers, organizing lawful pickets, and other peaceful and lawful forms of civic involvement that publicize the issue.”

In late 2010, Brayshaw edited the Wikipedia article “Tallahassee Police Department,” adding a section about his history-making lawsuit and his grievances against Garrett. Beginning in 2011, Garrett contributed her own edits to the public, user-written encyclopedia, deleting Brayshaw’s entries.

Exhibits attached to the latest suit include two emails exchanged between Garrett and one Sgt. George Creamer.

“Heads up. Brayshaw at it again. He put his spin on Wikipedia along with your home address,” writers Creamer.

“Thanks. I edited it for now. See how long it takes for him to put it back,” replies Garrett.

The emails were obtained pursuant to a public records request by Brayshaw. They were exchanged via government email accounts.

Marie A. Mattox, Brayshaw’s attorney, would not speak to Sunshine State News, because federal rules of civil procedure prevent her from doing so while the case is active. The Tallahassee Police Department did not return comment by late Monday evening.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

 

Tags: ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, Annette Garrett, calameo.com, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, freedom of speech, George Creamer, Marie A. Mattox, News, RateMyCop.com, scribd.com, slideshare.com, Tallahassee Police Department, United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Wikipedia, Government

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One Comment on “Is Tallahassee Police Department Violating City Watchdog’s Free Speech?”

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