Coral Springs City Manager Loses Bid For Immunity in First Amendment Lawsuit

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Coral Springs City Manager Loses Bid For Immunity in First Amendment Lawsuit

City Manager Frank Babinec and former Humane Officer Warren Darlow.

By Kevin Deutsch

Coral Springs City Manager Frank Babinec does not have legal immunity from a lawsuit filed by a former city humane officer, who Babinec allegedly fired for posting a meme of George Floyd, an appellate court ruled Thursday.

Warren Darlow, who also had animal control duties in Coral Springs, began working for the city in Dec. 2017. Following the caught-on-video murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, Darlow posted a meme in a private Facebook group showing Floyd, who is Black, with pink skin.

In his federal lawsuit, Darlow claimed he was “making a satirical comment on the political climate due [to] George Floyd’s death.”

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Darlow said his Facebook account was later hacked by someone who reported the meme to a city official, identified in court papers as “the Deputy Chief.”

In August 2020, that official called Darlow into his office, “claimed he and the city attorney were offended by the post,” and fired Darlow, according to the lawsuit.

Darlow alleges Babinec, the city’s top executive, violated his First Amendment rights by firing him for posting the meme.

A district court previously denied Babinec’s claim of qualified immunity in the suit, a legal privilege extended to public officials in some instances because the meme involved a matter of “public concern.”

The appellate court agreed.

“We cannot conclude that Darlow’s meme of George Floyd with pink skin is anything other than commentary on the racial issues raised by the George Floyd incident,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit wrote in their decision, issued Oct. 27.

As a result of the court’s decision, the suit against Babinec can continue.

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Kevin Deutsch

Kevin Deutsch
Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.

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