Philadelphia, PA – An arbitrator ruled that one of the Philadelphia police officers who was fired for making offensive Facebook posts should be reinstated with back-pay.
The Philadelphia Police Department fired 15 officers and disciplined another 193 members of the force in 2019 after the Plain View Project identified hundreds of officers who had made social media posts that offended them, the Associated Press reported.
Philadelphia Police Officer Christian Fenico filed a grievance with the police union over his termination and argued that his Facebook posts did not prevent him from being a good police officer.
In posts identified by the Plain View Project, Officer Fenico called the mother of someone he had arrested a “scumbag” and also posted that he thought refugees should “starve to death,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
But the arbitrator agreed with Officer Fenico and ruled that the social media posts that had been flagged by the Plain View Project didn’t prevent him from being a valuable police officer.
The arbitrator ruled that Officer Fenico should be reinstated to the department and given back-pay and benefits that he missed while he was wrongfully terminated, the Associated Press reported.
However, the same arbitrator also ruled that former Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Farrelly should not be reinstated, calling the former officer’s social media posts “dehumanizing” and “demeaning.”
Farrelly was accused of making posts that mocked illegal immigrants and protesters and referred to black people as “animals,” the Associated Press reported.
Five other officers are still in the middle of the arbitration process, including one who was given a 30-day suspension and recently reached a settlement agreement with the city, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
In April, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that had been brought against the city by seven officers who claimed they had been victims of “reverse racism.”
The lawsuit claimed the officers had been unfairly punished for their conservative political views, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
There is another federal lawsuit filed by 11 other officers pending, and each of those plaintiffs is seeking $2 million in damages from the city.
The chaos began after the Plain View Project, in conjunction with social watchdog group Injustice Watch, launched a database on June 1, 2019 that included more than 5,000 Facebook posts made by identified members of law enforcement all across the country, WCAU reported.
The group claimed at their June 1 launch that they had put more than 300 Philadelphia officers into the database for making alleged racist or insensitive social media posts.
The city hired a local law firm to investigate the Plain View Project’s claims and review the posts that were placed in the database, WCAU reported.
Plain View Project is a research enterprise launched by Injustice Watch to identify thousands of Facebook posts made by police officers nationwide that might offend somebody.
Injustice Watch is a non-profit organization that considers itself the legacy of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and Northwestern University’s Medill Watchdog program, according to its website.
Since its launch in the fall of 2017, Plain View Project has been scouring the Internet for any hint of offense in any post or comment by any user they could identify as a police officer, active duty and retired.
Then they created a database of more than 5,000 Facebook posts they felt “could undermine public trust and confidence in police,” according to their website.
A quick scroll through the database made it abundantly clear that the project’s researchers did not appreciate “cop humor” in any form.
The Philadelphia PD was one of several departments who were singled out by the study, largely because their roster of officers was publicly available and therefore easy for researchers to cross-reference in identifying posts and comments made by cops.
On June 19, 2019, then-Philadelphia Police Chief Richard Ross announced that of the 328 officers reviewed for posting problematic content, he had placed 72 on paid administrative leave pending further investigation, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“An Internal Affairs investigation was immediately initiated,” the chief explained at the press conference. “Internal Affairs identified and prioritized those posts which clearly advocated violence or death against any protected class, such as ethnicity, national origin, sex religion, and race, or any speech advocating for supporting crimes affecting the integrity, honesty, and or trustworthiness of the police department.”
Then the police department hired an outside law firm to help them.
“As the Internal Affairs investigation proceeded, the law department contracted with the law firm Ballard Spahr to review each of the posts to determine if the posts were constitutionally protected,” Chief Ross told reporters.
Then he spelled out the step-by-step process the department has followed and explained the range of discipline that would be meted out based on the gravity of the officers’ offenses.
Chief Ross said that 56 of the 72 officers who were investigated would face discipline ranging from a reprimand to a 30-day unpaid suspension, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The chief told reporters that many of the officers would receive discipline consistent with a violation of the established social media policy, meaning as little as a reprimand up to a five-day unpaid suspension.
He said a group of 17 officers posted material that was “not only offensive and unprotected”… but which “demonstrates the officers have little or no regard for their positions as police officers.”
Chief Ross said 13 of the 17 would be suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss, meaning their employment would be terminated.
He said the remaining four would receive a 30-day unpaid suspension.
According to the chief, the officers who are being terminated had all posted material condoning violence, encouraging police brutality, or promoting memes or other content that was considered anti-Islamic, homophobic, or racist, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“I continue to be very angered and disappointed by these posts, many of which, in my view, violate the basic tenets of human decency,” the chief told reporters at the time.