Offensive comments prompt sheriff to enforce policy

Social media exchange leads to action

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have exploded in popularity, and with them come benefits and drawbacks.

On Monday night a deputy sheriff for the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office was involved in a Facebook exchange involving comments about homosexuality.

The deputy made his feelings about homosexuality very clear, even posting as part of the discussion that all gays and lesbians needed to be rounded up and taken to an island so they could be "nuked," to not be able to expose others to their beliefs.

Computer screenshots of the Facebook exchange were sent to the Journal by someone involved in the discussion. The original discussion centered on the Confederate flag controversy at Dolores High School where the school district has banned the flag from being displayed on school grounds after a hateful display.

When contacted about the Facebook discussion, Sheriff Dennis Spruell said the sheriff's office has a policy in place that is enforced for employees both on and off from the job.

Spruell said his employees who use a social media platform in an inappropriate way on their time away from work could be violating the policy, especially if they identify themselves as a MCSO employee.

The deputy's occupation and employer were listed on his Facebook page, however, the page has since been taken down.

"They live in a glass house, and they have to conduct themselves like everyone is watching," Spruell said.

Lt. Ted Meador echoed Spruell's comments, saying there is a social media policy in place to keep any employee from shedding a negative light on the sheriff's office.

Meador had seen the Facebook posts and discussed them with Spruell.

"Do we condone this stuff? Absolutely not and we do have a policy in place," the sheriff said.

On Wednesday morning, Spruell said that the deputy is no longer employed with the sheriff's office. Citing personnel issues, Spruell offered no information about the decision.

He also said that he was frustrated by the way he learned of the situation. He said he would have preferred that the woman had gone through the proper channels and contacted the sheriff's office rather than notifying media outlets.

Neither the county nor the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 have policies or plans to implement policies to ensure defamatory comments do not appear on a social media site for all to view.

Montezuma County Administrator Ashton Harrison said while he could not comment on the sheriff's office or what they have in place, said there is no policy nor will there be one for what his employees post on a social media website while off work.

"What they do on their own time is their business," Harrison said, adding that creating a policy is not even on the radar.

City Manager Shane Hale said Cortez uses social media to promote the animal shelter and the recreation center programs along with other departments when there is a need.

Hale said the city does have a social media policy for its employees.

Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter's views are close to how the county looks at social media outside the work place.

"The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for everyone, and social media is also protected," Carter wrote in an email. "Generally, the only thing that will cause the school district to act is if the post is "disruptive to the classroom environment or to the maintenance of a safe and orderly school."

Attempts to reach the deputy in question were unsuccessful.