SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones for blocking Black Lives Matter Sacramento leaders from posting comments on the sheriff’s official Facebook page, alleging he violated their First Amendment rights.
The suit, filed Wednesday in federal district court in Sacramento, alleges Jones deleted comments from BLM leaders Tanya Faison and Sonia Lewis on Oct. 31 and Nov. 5 when they responded to a post on the sheriff’s page expressing his opinion on the ongoing debate over the level of oversight the Office of the Inspector General should have over Jones’ department.
The Nov. 5 post included screenshots from the Black Lives Matter Facebook page, saying the group wants to “abolish the police” and a post Faison shared on her page, saying “all cops are bastards.”
Jones allegedly blocked Faison and Lewis from commenting on any future posts, the lawsuit said.
Faison said she’s still blocked from Jones’ Facebook page, reported The Sacramento Bee.
“Facebook is one of the only places where we can engage with the sheriff and his supporters,” she said. “Expressing our views is part of our role as residents of Sacramento.”
Moreover, Sean Riordan, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said Jones “censored” Faison and Lewis on his official Facebook page because of the “content of their speech.”
“Sheriff Jones has attempted to stifle the voices of the leaders of Black Lives Matter Sacramento,” Riordan said. “This is impermissible censorship that violates both the state and federal constitutions.”
The civil action will bring watchful bystanders. Facebook exercises its version of censoring privileges as do private users, but will a public entity be forced to play by a different standard? Previous cases seem to point in this direction.
A similar lawsuit was filed last year against President Donald Trump when he blocked some users from his Twitter page. A federal court in New York ruled that President Trump’s actions violated the First Amendment.
Earlier this month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the interactive component of a public official’s Facebook page is a “public forum,” and an official cannot block people based on their viewpoints.
The lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and an injunction requiring Jones to unblock Faison and Lewis from his official social media accounts.
A sheriff’s department spokesman said Jones was still on leave following surgery to remove his gallbladder and was unavailable for comment.