Black Lives Will Continue to Matter on Sacramento Sheriff’s Official Facebook Page Despite His Failed Attempt to Ban Free Speech

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John G. Heller, Rogers Joseph O’Donnell, 415-350-5965 (cell), jheller@rjo.com;     

SACRAMENTO – Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones and Black Lives Matter leaders reached a settlement after a United States District Court judge ruled that Sheriff Jones violated the Constitution when he banned the activists from commenting on his “Sheriff Scott Jones” Facebook page. The terms of the settlement require Sheriff Jones to establish a social media policy that protects the free speech rights of the public to comment on his official social media accounts. The County of Sacramento has agreed to pay $16,000 to each of the two plaintiffs, Tanya Faison and Sonia Lewis, and cover fees incurred by their lawyers. Sheriff Jones also agreed to unban other activists on his Facebook page pursuant to the new policy.

Faison and Lewis, two vocal activists in the Black Lives Matter and Black Liberation movements, were banned from the Facebook page maintained by Sheriff Jones after critically commenting about Sheriff Jones’ attempts to evade oversight concerning use of force incidents. At the time that they were banned, Sheriff Jones was facing increased pressure for public oversight due to a report issued by the County’s Inspector General that criticized the Sheriff’s Department’s actions in the 2017 shooting of Mikel McIntyre, an unarmed Black man. Sheriff Jones refused to allow any investigation of his deputies and retaliated against the Inspector General by physically locking him out of department facilities.

In January 2019, Faison and Lewis filed suit in federal court, claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights, and seeking legal remedy to restore them. Sheriff Jones contested their claim, arguing that his Facebook page was not an official account or public forum.

The new social media policy and other terms and conditions negotiated in the Settlement Agreement will ensure that the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department cannot ban public speech from public forums like social media.

“I am glad the case has been resolved, and that Sheriff Jones will no longer be able to violate the First Amendment rights of his constituents as he did to mine. I hope this case will prevent others from having their constitutional rights violated by elected officials, particularly those elected to uphold and enforce the law,” said Tanya Faison of Black Lives Matter Sacramento.

“Sheriff Scott Jones owes the taxpayers of this county access, accountability, and transparency,” said Sonia Lewis from The Liberation Collective for Black Sacramento. “Blocking constituents from the Sheriff's social media page is a clear abuse of power, and I am appreciative of the ACLU for helping us fight his attempt to disenfranchise certain members of our community. This lawsuit is a victory, and I hope it sends a clear message to Jones that he serves the people, not the other way around."

Faison and Lewis are represented by Sean Riordan of the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, and John Heller and Si Eun Amber Lee of Rogers Joseph O’Donnell in San Francisco.

 “As debates about critical issues like accountability and oversight of law enforcement are increasingly moving into the digital world, it is imperative that government officials be prevented from stifling the voices of leaders like Tanya and Sonia, merely because they disagree with what they are saying,” said ACLU Attorney Sean Riordan.

John Heller of Rogers Joseph O’Donnell agreed: “The ruling and settlement confirm important First Amendment protections for those communicating on social media, and we’re happy to have contributed to this outcome.”

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