Buffalo Police Officer Suspended for Social Media Posts

A Buffalo police officer continues to be suspended without pay after making social media posts that violate the department’s policies. Richard Hy, a 3-year veteran of the Buffalo Police Department, was posting videos on Vine using the account “Angry Cops”. The Department says that these videos, intended to be humorous, violated its social media policy and Hy was suspended without pay.

WGRZ reached out to Paul Cambria, a First Amendment attorney who has taken free speech cases to the United States Supreme Court, to get his legal analysis of Hy’s suspension. The full story is available on the WGRZ website.

Videos parodied daily occurrences for police officers

The Buffalo Police Department provided a copy of their policy to WGRZ. It states that the policy was designed in part to “ensure employees use appropriate discretion in the use of references to the Buffalo Police Department so as not to discredit the Department.” According to WGRZ, Hy posted dozens of videos on his Vine account to parody the everyday occurrences on the job as a police officer. The Police Department says that these videos violated their policy, which states that “employees shall not post any material on the internet that brings discredit to or may adversely affect the efficiency or integrity of the Department.” WGRZ reports that the policy also prohibits making these posts when in, or appearing to be in, uniform or on duty.

Free speech does not always come first

Paul Cambria told WGRZ that your right to free speech does not always come first if your employer has stated policies to which you must adhere. “It’s legitimate for an employer to say that you crossed a line if you undermine the integrity of your position or the employment, and that’s exactly the argument that will be made,” Mr. Cambria said, “and if you do that in such a way that might shake the trust the community has in you, or in the job, or in the position of a police officer, then you’ve crossed a line and the First Amendment is not available to protect you from job action.”

According to WGRZ, Hy responded to an online comment to say that the badge he wore in the videos was not a Buffalo Police badge. A source also told WGRZ that the reason Hy’s penalty was so severe is because he was already advised to stop posting the videos but still continued to make them.

About Paul J. Cambria, Jr.

The chair of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on criminal trials, criminal appeals, constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. He divides his time between the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.