COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – Three Columbia firefighters and a paramedic have now been fired over things they posted on social media about a Black Lives Matter protest.
It all started with the protest in Columbia on Sunday night. Some of the protesters blocked a street at one point. Columbia Fire Department Capt. Jimmy Morris posted on Facebook, “Idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work or there is gonna be some run over dumb a****.”
Senior firefighter Dave Proctor then responded to that post by writing, “Start running people over,” according to Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins. Probationary firefighter Edward Augustyn then posted, “You think they would be going to bed to get ready for work tomorrow.”
All three have been fired, along with a paramedic, whose name has not been released by Richland County. A county spokesperson would not reveal what the paramedic posted.
Chief Jenkins locked down all of the county’s fire stations at one point after someone posted the address of the station where the first post came from. The stations are back to normal now.
USC law professor Joe Seiner, an expert on workplace law, says even though we have freedom of speech, that freedom doesn’t allow you to say just anything. The commonly used example is that you can’t yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater.
He says there are also distinctions depending on whether you work for a public employer, like a fire department, police department, or public university, or whether you work for a private employer. “Are you speaking as a citizen, or are you speaking as part of your job? And then where you’re speaking as a private citizen, even then is what you’re saying so disruptive that it’s going to impair your employment to the extent that the employer has to remove you?”
He says there’s a simple test you can use to protect yourself and your job. “Never write anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing your employer, is the bottom line rule in these cases,” he says.