HARRODSBURG — A former Harrodsburg police officer has filed a lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully terminated, in part because of what he wrote on his personal Facebook account.
Jeffrey Pearce filed the complaint last week in Mercer Circuit Court naming the city, Chief Billy Whitenack, Mayor Eddie Long and commissioners Kerry Anness, Charlie Mattingly, Scott Mosely and Bubby Isham as defendants. It seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
According to the lawsuit, Pearce, a former patrolman, was reprimanded by Whitenack on April 5 for a posting he made on Facebook on March 31, after Pearce had worked a traffic accident on U.S. 127 in which local resident Van Landrum was killed when another vehicle collided with his tractor.
“Rough night investigating a fatal accident. The family has my prayers,” Pearce wrote on the social media site, according to the lawsuit.
Whitenack determined the post was in violation of city policy regarding social networking and Internet posting, but Pearce argues in the lawsuit it violates his right to free speech.
Whitenack also reprimanded Pearce that day for “failing to cooperate with the media” in violation of city policy, apparently due to Pearce’s refusal to release basic information about the fatal crash to The Advocate-Messenger. Pearce told a reporter that releasing such information went against his personal morals and said that he promised family members of those involved in the crash he would keep their names out of the newspaper.
The lawsuit maintains that Whitenack issued another reprimand against Pearce on May 14, after a citizen complained that Pearce, while off-duty at Walmart on April 6, acted in a way that violated city policy prohibiting employees from “taking any action which will impair the efficiency or reputation of the department.”
The citizen complaint was not sworn to in an affidavit, as required by law, and it did not offer specifics about how Pearce’s actions at Walmart violated policy, which violated Pearce’s right to due process of law, the lawsuit contends.
Pearce was suspended from the department on May 25 for “possible violations of numerous and unremunerated grounds under the Harrodsburg Police Department Rules of Conduct,” without any factual details presented to explain the suspension, again in violation of Pearce’s due process rights, the lawsuit contends.
“The notice of suspension for ‘possible violations’ was intentionally deficient and in violation of applicable law,” the complaint states.
None of the defendants have yet responded to allegations made in the lawsuit, which was filed by Harrodsburg attorney Bradley Guthrie.