Beech Grove sued over deleted social media comments

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An Indianapolis suburb removed social media pages for the city and its police department after a lawsuit accused it of violating residents' First Amendment rights by removing posted comments.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit last week against the city of Beech Grove on behalf of two women who say the city removed their critical comments from the police department's Facebook page.

The social media pages were taken down on Wednesday. ACLU attorney Jan Mensz said removing the pages is another blow to free speech.

"When a government entity opens up a space for public comment, it cannot regulate those comments based upon someone's viewpoint," Mensz told WTHR-TV. "The City of Beech Grove has put all public speech on its social media sites at risk of further censorship."

The women are not seeking compensation, but want their comments reposted.

According to the ACLU, the two women's posts posed valid questions about crime reporting in the city, as well as police action and inaction related to the removal of political yard signs.

The police department said it was advised by its legal counsel to remove the page, but said it's a loss of the department's most effective tool for soliciting tips on unsolved cases.

City attorney Craig Wiley said he believes Beech Grove has a "constitutional basis" to defend itself against the lawsuit, but will try to reach a settlement with the ACLU because of the cost of litigation.

"The police solved a lot of crime. They've got a lot of tips and now we've got to take it down," Wiley said. "That's the casualty in this."

Indiana University constitutional law professor David Orentlicher said a government agency is not required to create a social media page but once they open it to public comment, it cannot discriminate based on the comment posted.

According to Wiley, a settlement with the ACLU would include a new city social media policy.

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