It all begins last Tuesday morning, when Chad A. Claflin was working at the Watertown Depot and caught sight of Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns, set aside the flooring machine he was working, and approached him, phone camera in hand. The video he took is below — why not take a moment for viewing? It’s very short.
Anyway, no one comes off particularly well in this video (here’s Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham’s take on it from his blog–note also the comments!), but what happened afterwards is interesting. The Watertown Daily Times reported Monday that after telling an increasingly-annoyed sheriff that he didn’t work for Home Depot but rather as a subcontractor for Kellermeyer Bergensons Services, he was fired on Wednesday evening.
Claflin had distributed the video on YouTube, and it had been picked up by NewzJunky where it got a lot of attention. He told the Times he never meant the video to go viral, and was just questioning the sheriff as a concerned constituent.
While the videotaping and subsequent distribution do complicate things, this incident raises some interesting questions. It’s also an good example of how muddy these things can be: Of course, Claflin had the right to ask Sheriff Burns those questions; and his company has the right to fire him. But that’s often how free speech and other civil rights issues play out — why would you fire someone for something that’s potentially defensible under the Constitution, when they’re literally caught in the act of not working while on the job? Interesting stuff. We’ll see how it develops.