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Facebook comments cost Ga. cop his job

By Alexis Stevens
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — An attorney for a Sandy Springs police officer who said he was fired for a Facebook posting says what happened to his client could happen to anyone.

“Not only is it a censorship issue that everyone needs to know about,” Mike Puglise said, “they are not only saying that you can’t write it, but also that they can interpret what the content means.”

O.J. Concepcion, 33, of Morrow said he was fired from a job he held nearly four years because of comments he posted on the social networking Web site. Some of those posts included details about his police work, he said, such as the fact he was working with the FBI on a drug case.

One posting stated, “I’m going to be working plain clothes tonight,” Puglise said. Another mentioned that Concepcion was frustrated at work.

But Concepcion said he never released confidential information. He said other officers have posted racially insensitive information but have not faced any disciplinary action.

“Nothing was derogatory,” said Concepcion, who spent seven years with the DeKalb County police force. “I posted that stuff for my friends and family to read, not for the public.”

Sandy Springs police spokesman Lt. Steve Rose and city attorney Wendell Willard said the department cannot comment because it is a personnel issue.

The AJC has submitted an Open Records Request to get Concepcion’s employment file. The office has three business days to respond to the request, according to Georgia law.

Concepcion’s Facebook profile is private, meaning that only those who are approved by him to be “friends” have access to the information. Most of those “friends” are fellow officers and relatives, he said.

One of the “friends,” whom Concepcion said he knew prior to working in Sandy Springs, apparently thought the Facebook postings were not appropriate. That person complained, Concepcion said.

On Nov. 16, he was placed on administrative leave with pay and on Dec. 2, he was terminated, he said.

Puglise said his client will ask for a grievance hearing and will likely file an EEOC complaint. The attorney, who spent 16 years as an officer before becoming a lawyer, said that Concepcion --- who is Latino --- may also have been the victim of racial discrimination.

He was never warned about Facebook comments, Concepcion said.

Many other metro Atlanta police departments have no policies concerning use of Facebook-type Web sites. Some are in the process of addressing the issue.

In Gwinnett County, members of the police department are prohibited from posting anything on a social media site that relates them to the department, according to Cpl. David Schiralli. The Atlanta police department is working on policies to address electronic communication, and the Smyrna police department is developing a social media policy, their spokesmen said.

Although there isn’t a specific policy regarding Facebook for Marietta police, the release of sensitive information is not allowed, Officer Jenny Murphy said.

Joe Hernandez, Cobb County police spokesman, said the same is true for his force.

“Where do they draw the line?” Concepcion asked. “Everyone is using it.”

Copyright 2009 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution