By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A Lee County Sheriff’s Office employee fired after he was quoted in a newspaper article may legally pursue whether his speech was constitutionally protected, a federal judge says.
Rodricus Carltez Hurst’s lawsuit against Lee County was filed in 2013 claiming his termination was based on the content of what he told the Daily Journal allegedly “in violation” of his rights to freedom of speech.
On Jan. 1, 2012, Hurst confirmed to a Daily Journal sports reporter that a Mississippi State University football player was in the Lee County Jail after a bar fight, then was released on his own recognizance.
The sheriff’s department has a policy of employee termination for releasing information without authorization.
This week, U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock granted part of Lee County’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, saying issues Hurst brought to hearings for unemployment benefits were already decided judicially and could not be tried again.
Those issues focused only on whether he committed “misconduct” in violation of employment policy.
But the judge also noted that there was no inquiry by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security about whether Hurst engaged in protected speech, which he claims in his federal lawsuit.
She said he may continue to pursue action about whether the sheriff’s department’s policy on media communications by employees “is constitutionally valid” under the First Amendment.