Grand Jury’s Indictment Shields City From Free-Speech Retaliation Claim

George Crocker was a police officer with the City of Kingsville, Texas Police Department and a member of the Kingsville Law Enforcement Association, a labor organization. In early 2003, a group called the Citizens for the Betterment of Kingsville organized to advocate for the recall of the mayor and two City Council members. Crocker assisted in collecting signatures for the recall petition.

In March 2003, the Kingsville assistant city manager met with the local prosecutor for legal advice concerning whether the Association was improperly involved in supporting the recall petition. Three months later, a grand jury indicted Crocker for allegedly making an illegal campaign contribution on behalf of the Association in violation of the Texas Election Code.

A jury acquitted Crocker of all charges. Crocker then filed a lawsuit against the City, alleging that his indictment and prosecution were retaliation for his engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment (his participation in the recall effort).

A federal district court dismissed Crocker’s lawsuit. Without addressing whether Crocker’s speech was protected in the first instance, the Court found that “Crocker’s First Amendment retaliation claim cannot succeed because it is undisputed that his criminal indictment was issued by a neutral and independent grand jury. The Supreme Court has held that the finding of an indictment, fair upon its face, by a properly constituted grand jury, conclusively determines the existence of probable cause for the purpose of holding the accused to answer. Moreover, the existence of the grand jury indictment indicates another essential element of Crocker’s retaliation case, namely, causation between the City’s actions and the resulting indictment.”

Crocker v. City of Kingsville, 2006 WL 2092441 (S.D.Tex. 2006).

This article appears in the September 2006 issue