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WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – Deleted Facebook comments on a city-owned page were the catalyst for a new civil rights lawsuit filed by two Arkansas residents against the City of Walnut Ridge.
The lawsuit was filed Monday, August 6 in U.S. District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division. William Whitfield Hyman and Natalie Hyman, both of Fort Smith, are suing Walnut Ridge through Mayor Charles Snapp, in his official capacity, along with former Police Chief Chris Kirksey, in his individual capacity. They are represented by attorney Kesha Chiappinelli of The Zaffino Law Firm.
The plaintiff’s assert Walnut Ridge violated their federal and state freedom of speech rights by deleting several comments from the Walnut Ridge Police Department Facebook page. The comments, posted in April, pertained to the abused railroad worker who was pulled over and arrested without cause, then ticketed for filing a complaint on the officer. His civil lawsuit against the city is still pending.
The new lawsuit asks for:
- A jury trial
- A restraining order forcing city employees to restore deleted posts and stop deleting future posts
- Attorney’s fees, statutory fees, nominal damages, punitive damages, compensatory damages, and costs
On April 18, Natalie posted a link to the body camera footage of the Walnut Ridge Officer Matthew Mercado, who has since resigned. Her comment was “Walnut Ridge Police Department proudly serving!” The lawsuit says she posted an “update to this heartwarming story” a few minutes later. Both comments were removed.
On the same day, W. Whitfield posted a video on the WRPD page asking “Could you please arrest this officer for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and kidnapping?” A short time later, he realized this comment had been deleted. Another comment he posted asking where his original statement had gone was at first visible, but later hidden by the page administrator. The lawsuit indicates this was believed to be Kirksey, who has since resigned.
Since the page was an official department page ran by government employees, the suit claims the complainants’ rights to free speech were violated. The WRPD page was deactivated. No official pages are currently published although one unverified page is visible as of this publication.
A Federal judge ruled on May 23 that President Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for political views was a violation of the First Amendment. The ruling, reported by the Washington Post here, said it was an effort to silence critics in a public forum he used to engage with constituents.
“No government official — including the President — is above the law,” wrote Buchwald for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.