When it comes to erotic images online, Gared Hansen's photographs of nude women portraying mermaids, vampires, nymphs and other mythical creatures might seem tame. But his hobby isn't one that his bosses at the San Francisco Police Department approve of, resulting in Hansen being suspended twice in the past three years.
The 36-year-old officer, pictured above, doesn't believe that the suspensions were warranted and has filed suit in federal court in Oakland against the department for what he says are violations of his right to free speech.
In court documents filed earlier this month, Hansen says the suspensions, which stemmed from incidents in 2009 and 2010, were dished out because the department, "did not approve of plaintiff's artistic expression," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Hansen also alleges that he was assigned to jobs "widely known throughout the department as 'punishment' assignments."
Hansen's images, which can be viewed at peanutart.com, depict partially and fully nude women posed in several fantasy themes. According to the lawsuit, Hansen has been a photographer for 20 years and describes his work as "creative photography" and "figure study."
A seven-year veteran of the force, Hansen served a 10-day suspension in January following an investigation into a March 2010 photo shoot that took place in an abandoned hotel in neighboring Contra Costa County.
It was there that Hansen and two of his models were approached by five Sheriff's Department officers for trespassing on private property, Slate reports. When asked why he was there, Hansen told the officers that he was a San Francisco Police officer and that he was taking photos.
The deputies asked if the photos were posted online, and Hansen said yes. The admission was evidence enough for Hansen's bosses to claim that he was "establishing a nexus between [his] employment as a San Francisco Police officer and [his] personal website."
Though Hansen's website, which has since been taken down, made no mention of his work with the department, his superiors concluded that his conduct "reflects discredit on the department," according to the complaint.
According to his lawsuit, Hansen says that he also was suspended for five days in 2009 after an internal investigation that was sparked by his artwork.
Hansen's case may be unique, but employment experts are keenly eyeing the outcome as it may have implications for public employees nationwide who suddenly find themselves being disciplined for pastimes that their employers find objectionable.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages, reports local station KGO-TV, and lists San Francisco, its Police Chief Greg Suhr, and his predecessor, George Gascon, as defendants.
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