Phoenix Cop Sues Chief Over Facebook Post Investigation

Facebook posts from Phoenix police officers.
Facebook posts from Phoenix police officers. Via Facebook
"The most common name for a convicted gang rapist in England is... Muhammed," reads a Facebook post once shared by Phoenix Police Sergeant Juan Hernandez.

The post was one of 11 made by Hernandez that ended up being published this past June as part of a database of bigoted Facebook posts made by police officers nationwide. Offensive posts from Hernandez and 96 other current and former Phoenix police officers appeared in the Plain View Project's database, igniting backlash and sparking an internal investigation into the posts to determine whether officers violated department policy.

Today, Hernandez filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Phoenix and Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams alleging that his First Amendment right to free speech was violated by what he calls the Phoenix Police Department's "unconstitutional" social media policy. Hernandez was hired by the department in 1985, according to the Arizona Republic's salary database.

According to the complaint, Hernandez is set to go before the department's Discipline Review Board over his Facebook posts this coming Tuesday, October 15.

Hernandez is seeking damages, a jury trial, and a restraining order to "enjoin Defendants from taking any further adverse actions against Plaintiff Hernandez or any member of the Plaintiff AZCOPS [a statewide organization that represents law enforcement officers in Arizona]."

On June 3, the Phoenix Police Department's Professional Standards Nureau (PSB) launched an internal investigation into the posts, the lawsuit states. On June 5, when Hernandez got word he was being investigated for potentially violating the department's social media policy, he set his Facebook profile to private.

On June 20, Hernandez was interviewed by PSB, where investigators grilled him about four posts he shared that disparaged Muslims.

During his interview, Hernandez "explained that he was simply reposting content that he felt involved matters of public concern," the lawsuit states.

As Phoenix New Times previously reported, Hernandez was added to the Maricopa County Attorney's Brady list back in 2004 (the Brady list is a list of police officers who are so notoriously unreliable and dishonest that prosecutors must disclose the officer's reputation to defense lawyers). Hernandez has shared numerous anti-Muslim memes on Facebook, including posts from conspiracy websites titled "The End of the Christians in the Muslim World" and "Young Christian Girl Repeatedly Raped by 15 Muslims Then Murdered [READ HERE]."

"He simply reposted content that he identified as part of the ongoing public dialogue on matters that he wanted to discuss further with his friends, family, and associates," Hernandez's local lawyer, Steven Serbalik, wrote in the complaint.

On August 17, Phoenix police transmitted a draft investigation that would determine Hernandez violated police department policy with a Class III disciplinary classification that could mean 40, 80, or 240 hours without pay, and/or demotion or termination, according to the lawsuit.

After Hernandez got the PSB draft report on the investigation on August 26, he directed his attorney to "advise" his employer that "attempting to discipline Hernandez for discussing matters of public concern has a chilling effect" and "could result in legal action."

On September 4, officials met to review the findings of PSB's investigation. Hernandez, PSB head Shane Disotell, other PSB investigators, and Hernandez's AZCOPS representatives were present.

After the meeting, Disotell determined that Hernandez has brought "discredit to the Phoenix Police Department."

According to the lawsuit, Disotell said that PSB's investigations into the Plain View Project's posts "were viewed as a collective and that the determination to discipline and the degree of discipline was based upon the collective impact of all the posts from all of the impacted employees."

On October 2, Hernandez was notified that a Discipline Review Board meeting would be held to review the results of the PSB investigation into his posts. The board would then make a recommendation for discipline to Chief Williams.

This is a breaking story and may be updated.
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Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.

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