The Columbus Packet has obtained a copy of a recent Facebook post that has led to the resignation of a decorated Columbus firefighter and the lengthy suspensions of a policeman and two other city firefighters. The men, whom one columnist has dubbed “The Facebook Four” have become the center of a controversy that pits the rights of individual freedom of speech versus the powers of a municipal employer to discipline that speech.
Former Columbus firefighter Brad Alexander made a post on the wall of his personal Facebook page harshly criticizing a Columbus mother after her two-year-old son was struck by a vehicle just South of Eveningside Apartments in the 1300 block of 8th Ave. N. in late August. Tyree Sparks Jr. was struck by a pickup truck around 4 p.m. August 20th after he ran out of the yard where a family friend was watching him on their porch.
Lily Grayer told The Packet that she was playing with young Tyree when he suddenly bolted out into the front yard. Grayer said that as soon as he hit the pavement, a slow moving truck hit him and threw him to the ground.
“The lady was very aware and she slowed down and tried to miss him. She stopped right away and was hysterical…she was so worried he was badly hurt” Grayer said.
Shanta Henley, Tyree’s Aunt and Classie Craddieth, his grandmother raced from another neighbors home across Military Rd. as soon as they saw the commotion. Henley and Craddieth held the boys hands to calm him until emergency responders arrived minutes later. Sparks’ Aunt, Shanta Henley,accompanied Sparks in the ambulance and Craddieth and another Aunt, Shameka Nickelson, followed them to Baptist Hospital.
The young boy was transported to BMH-GT with a cut to the forehead and a knot on the back of his head, and the family said that he has recovered well. Members of the Henley family expressed outrage when they learned of the actual language of the post Wednesday evening. The Henleys said that they just knew what had been in the papers, and that they had not been given specifics by authorities.
Sometime following the accident, Alexander posted the following public post on his Facebook wall:
“People never cease to amaze me. Mama yelling oh my baybee my baybee….Hey you stupid ass, where was babyeees mama at while your 2 year old was getting hit by a truck. Mama needs to have her guts cut so there wont be anymore babies. Freeloading ignorant woman”
The Henleys told The Packet that, after finally learning the language in post, they might plan some sort of legal action. They said that the mother of the child,Terrance Henley, was actually on her way back from Columbus High School , where she is a Senior, when the accident occurred and was extremely emotional after she learned her child had been struck.
“That’s just wrong…using that kind of language. She (Terrance) didn’t do anything wrong. It was an accident” Craddieth said.
Although it is unclear when the post was taken down from Facebook, city leaders were shown a screenshot of the post that shows the following caption below the post:
Lance Luckey, Damon Estes, Eric Minga and 12 others like this
Shortly after news of the post was brought to the attention of Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore, Moore and Columbus Mayor Robert Smith had a meeting with Alexander. Within days of that meeting, Alexander reportedly submitted his resignation. According to several published reports, Alexander also posted the following apology on his Facebook page:
Columbus Police Officer Lance Luckey and Columbus Firefighters Damon Estes and Eric Minga, all city workers who reportedly admitted to “liking” the post, appeared before the Columbus City Council last week for a disciplinary hearing. Based on the recommendations of Columbus Police chief Selvain McQueen and Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore, the council suspended all three public servants for 30 days. According to published reports the firefighters will miss one calendar month of work while Officer Luckey will miss 30 paid days of work (meaning he loses nearly two months of pay). No authorities with the city could comment on whether any of the other twelve people who “liked” the comment were able to be identified.
The incident has become a hot topic on local chat rooms and Facebook groups, with several citizens organizing a fundraiser to help pay the four men’s medical bills during their suspension. Some local citizens expressed outrage that the men were disciplined for simply “liking” a Facebook post, when neither the Columbus Fire or Police Department or the City of Columbus has a written policy against such activity. Officer Lance Luckey is a very well-known and award-winning public servant, working not only as a police officer but also as a Caledonia Town Marshal and a Volunteer firefighter. He has been awarded five Chief’s Coins, and has been named “Firefighter of the Year,” “Rookie of the Year,” and “Firefighter with the Best Attendance.” Firefighter Brad Alexander was recently awarded “Rookie of the Year” and is also extremely popular in the community. Local sentiment grew over the weekend after Alexander played a pivotal role as a Volunteer firefighter during a car accident Sunday morning.
According to sources close to two of the three men suspended, they feel as though they were suspended unjustly. The sources both said that the men “liked” the post on their phones, and that the entire Facebook post isn’t always shown on the screen unless one clicks on it to read further. They argue that the men did not see the entire message until they were confronted at their respective places of work. Officer Luckey has appealed his suspension and is awaiting a hearing in front of the Civil Service Commission, and sources expect both of the firefighters will do the same. News of the controversy has spread to several national news sites, such as Firehouse.com, MankantoFreePress.com, TheNewsTribune.com, Policemag.com, Policeone.com and emsworld.com.