KNIGHTSTOWN — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit against the town of Knightstown on Monday for banning more than two dozen community members from commenting on its police department's official Facebook page.
At least 26 residents of Knightstown in Henry County have been banned from the Knightstown Police Department Facebook page. According to the ACLU, they were all banned because they made comments critical of the police department.
“The First Amendment protects people, who regardless of their views, attempt to hold the government accountable through expression,” Gavin M. Rose, an ACLU of Indiana senior attorney, said. “Knightstown’s practice of silencing citizens on Facebook who are critical of the police department’s actions or policies is unconstitutional.”
The ACLU is filing the lawsuit on behalf of the former KPD Chief of Police, Christopher Newirk. He also is running for Town Council in Henry County.
Newirk commented on the police department's Facebook to "provide his thoughts," the ACLU says, and was subsequently banned from the page. Meaning, he could not comment on future posts, it removed previously made comments by Newirk, and "ultimately prohibiting him from engaging in any expressive activity on the Facebook page."
In the filed complaint, the ACLU provides that on Oct. 7 KPD posted a picture of its patrol cars getting new decals. A Facebook user commented on the post questioning whether that was money well spent by the department.
"Looks good, but couldn’t the money it cost be more beneficial for our town in other ways like more patrolling?" The Facebook user commented.
Newirk responded to the comment to inform the user that the company who used to make the department's decals, did it for free. Newirk said, "The police committee was aware of this. It should have went back to be redone for free under warranty. This is exactly why I am running for office. I live in Knightstown so I care where my money goes."
The lawsuit goes on to provide further examples of how Newirk was critical of the police department, but not, as the ACLU states, threatening, obscene, profane or improper.
The ACLU alleges that the actions by the town of Knightstown represent viewpoint-based discrimination and is in violation of the First Amendment.