On April 1, 2016, the Haverford Township Police Department deleted Facebook replies critical of their Facebook post from March 31, 2016; thereby, violating all the Facebook responders’ First Amendment rights.
The issue began on March 31, 2016 at approximately 7:56 PM, when the Haverford Township PD posted to its Facebook account the following:
At approximately 1221 hrs today. HTPD received a report of a suspect removing what appeared to be an Ak-47 Assault rifle from a vehicle and walking in between houses in the 300 Block of Manoa Rd. Numerous police units responded to the area. Manoa Rd. was closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic while officers began to tactically search the area for the subject. The investigation revealed that the subject described by witnesses had entered a home with the rifle. Police were able to make contact with several subjects inside of the resident and they were all ordered out of the home and secured by police. One of the subjects admitted to removing his Air-Soft AK-47 replica rifle from his vehicle and entering his home. The residence was searched and police located the described Air-Soft rifle. During the incident local schools and daycare facilities were notified and advised to shelter in place until the incident was under control. Police cleared the scene and the schools were notified of the all clear at 1310 hrs. Charges pending upon completion of the investigation.
Since, the post was subsequently deleted from the Haverford Township PD’s Facebook page, a screenshot of the original posting is here:
While there are numerous civil rights violations committed by the Havertown Township PD in relation to its unlawful search, seizure, and defamatory comments, those issues are beyond the scope of this article. Rather, it is the Haverford Township PD’s conduct thereafter that is the focus of this article.
After posting this, numerous people (believed to be over 100 individuals) began posting comments critical of the departments handling of this matter. Many of the comments correctly stated that the PD lacked any reasonable suspicion, let alone probable cause, that a crime had occurred, as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has consistently held that merely seeing an individual with a firearm is not reasonable suspicion of a crime, as firearms can be lawfully possessed in the Commonwealth. If the law supported that reasonable suspicion could be established by the mere fact that particular conduct could be either lawful or unlawful depending on the circumstances, then every person driving a car could be stopped to merely inquire of whether the individual has a drivers license, proof of registration and proof of insurance.
In response, on March 31, 2016, at approximately 8:26 PM, the Haverford Township PD posted:
This information was posted in an effort to inform the local residents who were concerned about the police activity. This is not a forum for debate whether or not to charges are appropriate or not. The investigation is continuing.
Since, this post was also subsequently deleted from the Haverford Township PD’s Facebook page, a screenshot of the original posting is here:
After numerous people posted comments critical of the Department’s conduct and posting, as well as the fact that deletion of the posts would be a violation of the posters’ First Amendment rights, at approximately 3:41 PM on April 1, 2016, the Department deleted the all the comments and thereafter the post.
It seems clear that the PD has not only failed to train its officers on the Second and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but also, the First Amendment. Obviously, it has also failed to train its officers on the PA Constitution. Regardless, the taxpayers of Haverford Township will be able to thank the Department when the civil rights deprivation lawsuits are filed and judgments entered. The Honolulu Police Department found out how costly it can be to delete Facebook posts in 2014, when it ended up paying an out-of-court settlement to the poster whose posts were deleted and a $31,610.56 attorney fee awarded.
BUT, there is a silver lining to this matter. I became aware yesterday that another police department became aware of this situation and utilized it as a training opportunity for its officers on “what NOT to do.” The training apparently involved emphasis on the First, Second and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as, their PA constitutional counterparts, in relation to the overall scenario portrayed in the original post by the Haverford Township PD. As always, we stand in support of that PD and offer to provide additional training on the firearms laws and constitutional provisions of this Commonwealth to any department interested.