Sparks, NV – A veteran Sparks police officer has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights after he was suspended over social media posts he made about antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Sparks Police Officer George Forbush, a bomb squad technician with 19 years on the force, filed the 32-page lawsuit in federal court in Reno in April, KRNV reported.
Officer Forbush was previously given a four-day, unpaid suspension as punishment for four social media posts he made, including at least one that referenced antifa and BLM.
According to the lawsuit, he suffered emotional, psychological and reputational harms due to the disciplinary action, which he argued could also damage his employment opportunities post-retirement, KRNV reported.
Officer Forbush was off-duty when he made the posts and made no reference to his job as an SPD officer in any of them, according to the lawsuit.
He is seeking $1 million in damages.
“A public employer may not discipline or retaliate against its employees for the content of their political speech as private citizens on matters of public concern,” the lawsuit reads, according to the Associated Press. “Officer Forbush did not relinquish his right to think, care, and speak about politics and current events when he accepted a job as a police officer.”
The investigation into Officer Forbush began after an anonymous tipster sent city officials a tweet the officer posted in June of 2020, KRNV reported.
“I am going to build a couple AR pistols just for BLM, Antifa or active shooters who cross my path and can’t maintain social distancing,” the tweet read, according to the news outlet.
The city combed through more than 700 of Officer Forbush’s tweets before determining that a total of four warranted disciplinary action, the Associated Press reported.
Another post showed a group of people trying to light a U.S. flag on fire, along with a comment from the veteran officer, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
“I would be a helper and throw a lot of gasoline in their direction as they held their lighters and they say oops as I walked away,” he wrote.
Another post involved Officer Forbush reacting to a photo of a man exposing himself in a public area, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
“Next time put him in some cross-hairs or on a red dot, please,” he said.
Officer Forbush also made a post blasting a police officer who had been accused of falsifying evidence, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
“He made a lot of good cops look bad. It would be ironic if someone planted drugs by cramming them up his a– so they could be found during an intake search when he goes to prison for what he did. That would be the tip of the iceberg on the punishment scale,” the post read.
Officer Forbush was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 18, 2020, while the investigation was being conducted, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
He was sanctioned to four days of unpaid leave on Dec. 4, 2020.
According to the city’s social media policy, “employees and elected officials should not post discriminatory remarks, harassing statements, and threats of violence or any language that can be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating toward fellow employees, citizens, or vendors,” the Associated Press reported.
The lawsuit described Officer Forbush’s case as a “warning broadcast to all city employees that they had better not say anything, anywhere, in any forum, even in their personal social media discussions of matters of public concern.”
According to the lawsuit, Officer Forbush is also asking the court to order the city to “implement a policy governing officers’ personal social media use that is consistent with the Constitution,” and to have the disciplinary action associated with the incident purged from his personnel file, the Associated Press reported.