Fla. Park Director Battles City Over Text Fracas

     MIAMI (CN) – A city employee of 25 years says the suburb he worked for recorded his text messages without permission, released his texts to the media, who portrayed him as racist, then tried to force him to quit over the resulting furor.
     Robert Landen, director of parks and reserve sergeant for the City of Homestead Police Department, sued Homestead, an agricultural city 35 miles southwest of Miami, the members of the Homestead City Council and the investigation company he says the city hired to track his phone messages for invasion of privacy in Miami-Dade County Court.
     Landen claims he received his city-issued cell phone in 2005, and the city said it could double as his personal phone as long as he paid the taxes on it, which he did.
     “Unbeknownst to Landen, The City of Homestead IT Department recorded all incoming/outgoing calls, texts, pictures, etc., that were conducted on his city-issued mobile phone,” the complaint states.
     It adds: “Some of the recordings of Landen’s mobile phone text messages/PIN messages, etc., included texts of a personal nature that had nothing to do with City business. These recordings were performed without the consent, permission or knowledge of Landen, or without any Human Resources policy change or notification to employees. Human Resources Guide had no policy in effect with regard to cell phone usage during the instant time period. It only addressed email usage.”
     In 2009, Landen says the Homestead City Council, its Mayor Steve Bateman and its Vice Mayor Judy Waldman requested a copy of all the text messages from and to city employees who had city-issued cellular phones, as part of an investigation into then-suspended City Manager Mike Shehadeh for alleged misconduct.
     He says the City hired Franklin Investigations and its owner, Patrick Franklin, to assist in the investigation, and gave him a copy of all the texts, business or personal, from the city-issued cell phones.
     “From February 10, 2010 through February 22, 2010, text/PIN messages sent from Landen’s city-issued Black Berry cell phone that were only intended for those persons who received his text/PIN messages were fully reprinted in their exact verbatim text throughout various South Florida publications and media outlets including: NBC Miami by Jeff Burnside; the South Florida Times by Elgin Jones: New Times by Tim Elfkin; the Miami Herald and Caulkins Media by Mike Diehl, and the contents of these private text messages became the subject of a loca1 NBC Miami television news story,” according to the complaint.
     It continues: “The only means for the private text/PIN message communications between Landen and those only intended to receive his communications and those media groups mentioned in the above paragraph was through the acquisition of repeated copying of these private communications from off the City’s server, as ordered by Mr. Purrinos, the City’s acting manager at the time, and then immediately distributed by his office to the City Attorney Richard Weiss and the City Council Members and others.
     “The reprinted text/PIN messages and their communications characterized Robert Landen as a racist. As a result, a note, threatening in nature, was left on Landen’s wife’s car, at their home. During Landen’s 25 years of employment with the City, Landen’s personnel file did not contain one item regarding racist issues.
     “From the time the City of Homestead downloaded and acquired Landen’s text/PIN messages from off of their own self-contained server, through the full publication in disclosure of his private communications by the media as described, no effort or attempt was made by the City, Patrick Franklin, or the City Council members, to contact Landen to find out the nature of these communications, nor did any of the named defendants seek his permission to distribute and publish private and personal communications that in no way could be considered to be in the furtherance of city business by any reasonable person …
     “Landen’s private text/PIN messages were intentionally, maliciously and/or recklessly allowed to be disseminated and/or leaked to media outlets for the purpose of forcing Landen to either resign his positions of employment with the City or face termination based on Sergio Purrino’s telling Landen that if he did not resign, he would be fired. Purrino told Landen ‘they’ (the council) ‘is out for your blood,'” the complaint states.
     Landen seeks damages for loss of employment, loss of income, loss of pension, pain and suffering, and compensatory damages.
     Landen sued the city, Franklin Investigations Inc. and its owner Patrick Franklin, and city council members Judy Waldman, Elvis Maldonado, Stephen Shelley, Jimmie L. Williams III, Wendy Lobos, Jon Burgess, Steven Bateman, Sergio Purrinos, and Ana Sanroman.
     He is represented by Richard Ruben.

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