HOUMA — A Houma police officer
has filed a lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights were violated
when his home was searched and he was put on administrative leave
over a complaint that he allegedly authored a defamatory blog about
parish public officials and their relationships.
officer, Wayne Anderson, and his wife, Jennifer, filed
a suit against the Sheriff’s Office, Terrebonne Parish Consolidated
Government, Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, as well as
Terrebonne Parish President Gordy Dove and Terrebonne Parish
insurance agent Tony Alford, who initially filed the complaint
against Anderson and his wife.
The blog, ExposeDAT, while no
longer online, featured an array of unflattering articles about the
Terrebonne Parish officials and their personal relationships.
Officials were able to track the origins of the blog to the
Andersons, where Wayne Anderson was stripped of his police officer
duties and put on administrative leave while an investigation was
held about the comments on the site.
The Andersons filed a
suit in retaliation and have claimed that their civil liberties are
being violated. Under the First Amendment, the Andersons may have
protection as Wayne is a government employee, which the law is
specifically designed to protect.
“The First Amendment only
binds government,” Henry D.H. Olinde, attorney at Olinde and Mercer
in Baton Rouge, told The Louisiana Record. “If he was
employed by the government, he has First Amendment rights. Contrary
to most people’s beliefs, the First Amendment is not an absolute
right. It’s subject to different limitations depending on the
While the First Amendment may protect the speech
of a government employee, it doesn’t guarantee protection when that
speech is made up of false or defamatory remarks.
“The other thing that is not
protected by the First Amendment is recklessly or intentionally false
speech,” Olinde said. “If it’s false, it’s not
The argument the Sheriff's Office mounted against
the Anderson uses a rarely used criminal defamation statute in
Louisiana. While the Sheriff's Office argues that the remarks made on
ExposeDAT were false and defamatory, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal
ruled the search warrant was unconstitutional in this instance on
Aug. 25, 2016.
“I would say that if there was a finding that a
search warrant violated his First Amendment right and his speech was
protected by the First Amendment, I suspect that it’s going to be a
difficult case to defend,” Olinde said.
The Andersons are one in
a growing trend of cases regarding the internet and free speech. The
Internet is an easy tool for anyone to post information whether it is
true or accurate and it is expected to create a rise in cases of this
nature going forward.
“The likelihood and frequency of
these cases are likely on the rise,” Olinde said. “I know it is.
There are plenty of them out there.”
U.S. District Judge
Lance Africk is ruling over the lawsuit after U.S. District Judge Jay
C. Zainey recused himself from the case. Zainey's son works for the
firm of attorney Conrad Williams III who, along with Houma lawyer
Jerri Smitko, is representing the Andersons in the case.