by: Mike Petchenik Updated:
SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. - A former Sandy Springs police officer has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the department wrongfully terminated him over posts on his personal Facebook page.
Orlando “O.J.” Concepcion also claims the department discriminated against him because of his Hispanic ethnicity and because he reported alleged misconduct of white officers to his white superiors.
“Other white male employees were doing the same activities, posting on Facebook,” Concepcion’s lawyer, Curt Thompson, told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik. “They weren’t disciplined, they weren’t terminated. Mr. Concepcion was.”
In a 2009 interview with Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne, Concepcion admitted to posting the following:
“Orlando J. Concepcion is back at work, frustrated all the BS,” and, “Orlando J. Concepcion is working with the FBI this week. I smell a million dollar drug seizure coming our way soon.”
Concepcion told Winne he felt like Sandy Springs Police were digging into his personal life by using the posts against him.
“My Facebook is set on private, and the public cannot read it,” Concepcion told Winne.
Thompson told Petchenik his client is seeking back-pay and other damages, as well as an opportunity to clear his name.
Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, told Petchenik she’s concerned anytime an employer uses postings on social media web sites as grounds for termination.
“You have a right to be bawdy and raucous in your private space,” she said. “For an employer to say, 'You have a right, but I’m going to be watching, and I don’t like what you’ve posted, and I’m going to use that in employment decisions' -- that’s (a) pretty clear (violation),” she said.
Petchenik obtained documents from the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, also known as POST, showing that the council punished Concepcion for his alleged conduct.
A memo Petchenik obtained said the council found probable cause that Concepcion “made derogatory, disparate or unprofessional comments to subordinates” and that he 'posted comments on Facebook about law enforcement ... that were demeaning and unprofessional."
The report also referenced an incident in which Concepcion was disciplined for putting a cartoon depicting someone stabbing another person in the back into the mailbox of a female officer. Concepcion claimed it was meant for another person and ended up in the wrong mailbox.
It also references an incident in which he received a one-day suspension for posting a Mothers Against Drunk Driving flyer on the door of a colleague who’d gotten a DUI.
The document said Concepcion received a public reprimand, 12 months of probation, and was required to undergo ethics training as a result of the council finding probable cause he violated policies.
“He was posting nothing different than what other police officers were posting, and no ongoing or existing operations were compromised,” Thompson said. “Mr. Concepcion admitted no guilt or wrongdoing in that and certainly maintains he did nothing wrong.”
Sandy Springs City Attorney Wendell Willard told Petchenik he could not comment on pending litigation.