Monday, September 20, 2010

Anniston police officer questioned about his Facebook postings

By Dixon Hayes

ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - Just a few weeks ago, an Anniston Police officer, Roy Bennett, was credited, along with other officers, with bringing about a peaceful end to a hostage standoff in a Kmart store. Monday, Bennett found himself questioned over a Facebook posting.

Council members questioned Bennett as part of an ongoing inquiry into various issues.

Bennett was accused of posting a graphic on his Facebook page, depicting council member Ben Little on the cover of a fictional magazine called "Moron." A banner at the bottom said "Moron of the Year." It was allegedly the lone entry in a photo album called "City Idiots."

Bennett's attorney, Jason Odom, says Bennett faced a disciplinary hearing over the matter, and the hearing officer ruled Bennett did not violate any city policies.

At Monday's hearing, Bennett, on the advice of his attorney, refused to answer questions about the incident. Odom had testified the council had no right to question Bennett on what was considered a settled personnel matter.

The heated exchange included interruptions by various people, exhortations by the council and city attorney Cleo Thomas that Odom wasn't allowed to speak, and criticism over Bennett's alleged actions.

Odom argued the graphic would've been done on Bennett's personal time when he would've been protected by the First Amendment. But Little and fellow council members, John Spain and Herbert Palmore disagreed. Spain went as far as to say he wasn't through with the matter.

The only questions Bennett did answer were when council member David Dawson asked him about his role in the September 3rd standoff in the Kmart pharmacy on McClellan Boulevard, which ended when the gunman surrendered. Bennett was one of two negotiators who spoke to the gunman. Gary Johnson is charged in the incident and remains in the Calhoun County Jail.

Bennett's Facebook page and printed copies of news articles about the Kmart standoff were entered into evidence.

Copyright 2010 WBRC. All rights reserved.