Officer Reporting Crime To Supervisor Not Protected By First Amendment

Jerry Sillers was a police officer with the City of Everman, Texas. In a federal court lawsuit, Sillers alleged that during late 2006 and early 2007, he witnessed unlawful acts committed by his fellow police officers against other citizens. Sillers claimed that he was terminated from employment after he relayed his concerns over these acts to his supervising sergeants and the Chief of Police. Sillers’ lawsuit contended that his reports to his supervisors were protected as whistleblowing speech under the First Amendment, and that the City violated his free speech rights by terminating him.

Applying the dictates of the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, a federal court rejected Sillers’ lawsuit. The Court found that “the cases are consistent in holding that a public employee who raises concerns related to his job function up his chain of command does so as part of his official duties and not as protected speech. It is evident that Sillers made the statements in question in the course of performing his duties as a police officer. His statements reflected his knowledge of acts committed by his fellow officers, knowledge that he obtained through his duties as a police officer, and, significantly, the statements were all made internally, up his chain of command, rather than to outside individuals or entities. Sillers’ speech was made pursuant to his official duties and is therefore not protected First Amendment speech.”

Sillers v. City of Everman, Texas, 2008 WL 2222236 (N.D.Tex. 2008).

NOTE: In a similar case, Barrows v. City of Fort Smith, Arkansas, 2008 WL 2026088 (W.D.Ark. 2008), the Court found unprotected by the First Amendment speech by a police officer who was in charge of his Department’s Administrative Services Division where the officer was terminated after he expressed concerns to the City Administrator regarding a new program that was potentially wasteful of public funds and could violate state law. The Court found that these remarks were made as part of his job responsibilities, and thus were unprotected.

This article appears in the July 2008 issue