Police Chief Loses First Amendment Lawsuit

James Mantle was employed by the City and County of Country Club Hills, Missouri as the Chief of Police. When Mantle was terminated in 2006, he brought a retaliation lawsuit against the City, alleging that his termination was in response to his exercise of his First Amendment rights.

Mantle alleged that two years before, he had reported the potential theft of public funds by the City’s mayor to a judge of the municipal court. The judge, in turn, referred the matter to County law enforcement authorities for investigation. The investigation resulted in criminal charges against the mayor, who subsequently resigned. Mantle contended that the City, stung by his revelations, retaliated against him by firing him.

Applying the Supreme Court’s rule in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the Court found that though Mantle’s statements dealt with a matter of public concern, they were unprotected by the First Amendment because they were made in the course of his job. The Court held that “as a police officer, Mantle had a duty to report crimes, and it is undisputed that the mayor’s conduct constituted criminal activity. It is immaterial whether or not Mantle was specifically instructed to report the mayor’s admission of theft. The information was relayed to Mantle, and regardless of how he learned of it, his position as the chief law enforcement officer for the City required him to investigate and report the alleged criminal act, even without a specific directive to do so. Because Mantle’s speech owes its existence to his position with the City as Chief of Police, he can sustain no cause of action under the First Amendment relating to the City’s reaction to that speech.”

Mantle v. City of Country Club Hills, 2008 WL 3853432 (E.D.Mo. 2008).

This article appears in the November 2008 issue