Columbus Paper Releases Text of Facebook Rant

Additional details have been released on the controversial Facebook post that cost one Columbus, Mississippi firefighter his job and caused 3 other city employees (2 firefighters and one police officer) to be disciplined.

Dave Statter has been on this since this morning after the Columbus Packet published an exclusive expose. The original post by Firefighter Brad Alexander came after a 2 year old child,  Tyree Sparks Jr., was struck by a vehicle. The paper reported that Alexander did in fact respond on the run on August 20, 2012. His Facebook  post allegedly stated:

“People never cease to amaze me. Mama yelling oh my baybee my baybee….Hey you stupid ass, where was babyeees mama at while your 2 year old was getting hit by a truck. Mama needs to have her guts cut so there wont be anymore babies. Freeloading ignorant woman”

The Packet does a good job of laying out the details. Here is some of what the reporter wrote:

“The Henleys told The Packet that, after finally learning the language in post, they might plan some sort of legal action. They said that the mother of the child, Terrance Henley, was actually on her way back from Columbus High School , where she is a Senior, when the accident occurred and was extremely emotional after she learned her child had been struck.”

So exactly what sort of legal action might Ms.Henley have? I am struggling to come up with one. Defamation would probably not be a viable option because while offensive, the post does not make a false statement of fact. At best it is a statement of opinion and hyperbole.

There might be liability based upon an invasion of privacy tort called “false light”. This tort is not recognized in all states and a stumbling block may be that it requires the proof of “actual malice”. Intentional infliction of severe emotional distress might be another semi-viable claim, but my sense is it is a stretch.

Constitutional claims would probably not lie on the facts because Alexander was not acting as a government employee when he posted his comments. The comments seem a bit mild to reach the level of being classified as a “hate crime” or hate-based offense that might allow for civil actions.

How about the Legal Eagles out there – what civil remedy might Ms. Henley have?

Prior post on Alexander’s resignation.

Discussion on discipline for “Liking” a post.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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