More Cybercasualties in South Carolina Over BLM Posts

The past few weeks have seen an unusually high number of fire and EMS personnel get themselves into disciplinary trouble for their social media activities. Whether we use the acronym SMACS – Social Media Assisted Career Suicide, SMACSS – Social Media Assisted Career Suicide Syndrome, or my favorite – Cybercasualty – no state has seen more of this than South Carolina following a Black Lives Matter protest last week in Columbia.

Last week, Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins fired a fire captain and two firefighters over their comments on the BLM protesters who shut down I-126. Captain Jimmy Morris, Senior Firefighter Dave Proctor and Probationary Firefighter Edward Augustyn III were all terminated for posts they made on Facebook.

Richland County EMS officials terminated three EMS workers and a fourth has opted to resign over their social media posts about the same Black Lives Matter protest. The fired employees were identified as Troy Beckham, Tyler Dixon and Tommy Boland. EMT Donald Oliver opted to resign.

According to Interim Richland County Administrator Gerald Seals: “The statements on social media were threatening and could be taken as the county having individuals, who because of their bias, may adjust their care – and erodes public trust and is unacceptable.”

Here is more on the Richmond County firings.

As a public service announcement, let me remind my friends out there in cyberspace – if you work for government, you have a First Amendment Right to speak your mind provided you do so as a private citizen, on a matter of public concern, and you do it in a way that does not cause actual harm or disruption to the mission and functions of your department.

When a public employee makes statements that cause the public – or a segment of the public – to believe you are biased and/or that you are not capable of delivering the same quality of service to all members of the public – you are in jeopardy of causing “actual harm or disruption to the mission and functions of the department” – in which case you may lose any First Amendment protection you might otherwise have had.

Verbum sapienti satis est.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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