COLUMBIA, Mo. – A review of a Columbia Police Department officer's social media activity is aimed at determining whether the opinions he expressed online might have affected the way he conducted his job.
The Columbia Citizens Police Review Board recommended Wednesday that the interim city manager have the Missouri State Highway Patrol investigate Lt. Brian Tate's social media use. Acting CPD Chief Jill Schlude said at the board's meeting Wednesday that the department is also conducting an internal review of Tate and cases he worked on.
Tate was placed on paid leave Jan. 3 following scrutiny of his social media activity.
"That person's perspective may be viewed as tainted based on their prior postings," said board Chairman Darryl Smith.
He said he can't comment specifically about Tate's social media use because the board could be questioned as witnesses during the investigation.
Sources told ABC 17 News about specific posts from Tate's Twitter account that were published in the media, including a tweet that made derogatory comments about a homeless person wearing a trash bag and another in which he reportedly shamed woman for wearing a "sexy" Halloween costume.
Smith said it's important to find whether the social media use affected any of Tate's decisions while on the job. Tate has spent time working in CPD's Internal Affairs Unit, which investigates claims against officers including reports of racial bias.
"The problem comes in when the inference can be draw that what you are communicating in your personal capacity can have an impact on your professional," Smith said.
Police officers are public officials and represent their department, Smith said.
"Anyone in the public eye should live to a higher standard," he said.
University of Missouri communications law professor Sandy Davidson said public officials have First Amendment rights but there are limits.
She said the speech becomes a problem if it affects the employee's ability to do their job.
"If someone has said something or posted something that would interfere then sometimes I would say the public employer has not only the right, but the obligation, to terminate the employee," Davidson said.
She said cases have gone before the Supreme Court pertaining to First Amendment rights and social media.
Davidson the court has seen multiple cases pertaining to First Amendment rights in the digital age and social media is similar to other forms of speech.
"Arguably it's better to know a person's attitudes if they have a public position instead of having it buried," she said.