June 15, 2019 Marietta- Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren walks up to the podium to speak during the 30th annual Cobb Sheriff's Corn Boilin' at Jim Miller Park in Marietta, Georgia. (Christina Matacotta/Christina.Matacotta@ajc.com)
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta

Lawsuit: Cobb sheriff violates free speech with Facebook blocks

A candidate running to unseat Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the sheriff and his staff are violating the public’s right to free speech by blocking critics on Facebook. 

Jimmy Herndon worked for the Sheriff’s Office, including as an investigator, for 16 years until 2017. According to an executed settlement agreement between the county and Herndon, he resigned his post. 

Since then, he has become a vocal critic of the sheriff on social media, including the official Cobb County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, which he says deleted his comments.

In February, the ACLU of Georgia sent a letter warning Sheriff Warren not to block constituents from expressing themselves on Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

“Courts have been unanimous in ruling that targeted censorship on government social media pages otherwise open for public comment is a violation of the First Amendment,” the organization wrote at the time. 

Herndon declared his candidacy in August.

According to Herndon’s lawsuit, the sheriff and his employees have continued to block critics, including himself, and delete critical posts. 

Glenn Daniel, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office who is also named in the complaint, said the department had not been served and was unable to comment.

Herndon is seeking the immediate restoration of his access to the Cobb Sheriff’s Facebook page through a preliminary injunction. The lawsuit is asking a judge to instruct the sheriff to discontinue the practice of blocking critics, as well as for damages. 

Separately, Warren is facing a racial discrimination suit filed by an employee and his campaign finances are under investigation by the state ethic’s commission.

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