Fired LAPD Sergeant Sues After Suspension, Reprimand Over Social Media Posts

Written with contribution from Sherrif David Clarke 

The Los Angeles Police Department and Chief Michael Moore are being sued by an understandably irked police sergeant who says that his first amendment rights were violated when he was reprimanded for posting controversial opinions on social media.

The Orange County Register reported on Tuesday (H/T The Daily Caller) that Sergeant Joel Syndanmaa was disciplined on three occasions for his respective comments on the death of rapper Nipsey Hussle, the confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and an Islamic terror attack in Paris.

“Sgt. Sydanmaa’s statements on the account were always and entirely his personal views, opinions, and comments, in his capacity as a private citizen, on matters of public concern,” the lawsuit states, as the OCR reported.

In April 2019 following the death of Hussle, Syndamaa was issued a one-day suspension after commenting that the rapper’s fatal shooting was in part a result of the lifestyle he’d chosen for himself.

He wrote that “the bottom line is that he chose the lifestyle that ultimately killed him and it wasn’t the ‘great guy’ lifestyle that so many (people) are making it out to be now that he’s gone,” according to the OCR.

The post garnered over 1,300 comments at the time, many of whom from triggered outrage mob members.

“No wonder so many gangbangers want to kill y’all, y’all just shouldn’t show up, for everyone’s safety,” the OCR reports one commenter as saying.

“Here’s an idea. Next time you need help, call a Crip, not 911,” Sydanmaa curtly replied.

During the explosive confirmation hearings for Justice Kavanaugh in 2018, Syndamaa shared of the 11th-hour sexual assault allegations made against the well-respected judge that, “considering these circumstances, there’s no way that Kavanaugh can be proven guilty. Sooooo?”

This was a conclusion drawn by many who observed that the allegations made by Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, were insubstantial.

Following the bloody Paris ISIS attack in 2015, Syndamaa noted of Japan that they manage to “keep Islam at bay by putting restrictions on Islam and all Muslims,”

Two employees of the Council on American-Islamic Relations employees demanded that the LAPD “identify and discipline” Sydanmaa. CAIR it should be noted has long been accused of being a shadow group to promote the radical Islamic agenda. In fact, the United Arab Emirates’ ministerial cabinet had listed them as one of 83 proscribed terrorist organizations, up there with the Taliban, al Oradea, and ISIS. So we can throw their feigned outrage out here.

The OCR reports that Syndanmaa, who had a “prominent disclaimer” that his posts were not associated with a government agency, was initially issued a 22-day suspension without pay before he successfully contested it and accepted a reduced penalty.

The sergeant is the recipient of the Police Medal for Heroism as well as over 120 commendations. The OCR describes him as being “devoted” to his job.

This will be an interesting case. It is an uphill climb however as there is precedent on police agencies being able to regulate off-duty conduct by police officers. The opinion basically says that police departments can discipline officers who bring discredit on the department even off-duty, in order to maintain the trust of the community. It’s the holding officers to a higher standard theory. Some off-duty speech can be interpreted as indicating biases. That becomes an integrity issue.

Regulating officer speech off-duty however should be narrowly exercised by police agencies. A person who signs up to be a police officer should not have to give all their individual first amendment liberty away when serving. Nothing that Sgt, Syndanmaa said in his posts is so outlandish for the LAPD to determine that it damaged community trust.

Most officers do not enter the deep end of the pool of freely talking on social media recognizing that it will get back to their department. So, it isn’t always wise to engage in this kind of banter on social media even with a disclaimer. Maybe however it is time for courts to revisit this restriction on free speech by police officers. Maybe we need a bright line between on-duty and off-duty regulation of conduct by police agencies.


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