Compelled Internal Affairs Interview Not ‘Seizure’ For Fourth Amendment Purposes

Lawrence Goodine was a police officer for the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee. In early 2007, after complaints from several suspects, the Department’s Internal Affairs division began investigating Goodine. On March 7, 2007, Internal Affairs officers approached Goodine during roll call and ordered him to accompany them back to their offices. Goodine was escorted into a police vehicle and driven to another location. Internal Affairs officers then advised Goodine in writing that his refusal to answer any questions could result in disciplinary action, including termination of his employment. Goodine was also informed any statements he made during the Internal Affairs interview could not be used against him in a later criminal proceeding.

The Internal Affairs investigation resulted in Goodine being terminated for several charges, including multiple incidents of theft, improper procedure, improper search, untruthfulness, and submitting a false report.

In May 2007, the Department began a criminal investigation into the allegations Goodine engaged in theft and other official misconduct while a Department employee. A grand jury returned an indictment against Goodine charging ten counts of theft, ten counts of official misconduct, one count of aggravated perjury, and one count of extortion. Goodine was later acquitted of these charges following a jury trial.

Goodine then sued the City alleging, among other things, that his compelled internal affairs interview was a “seizure” for Fourth Amendment purposes, and that the City lacked probable cause for the seizure. A federal trial court judge disagreed, and rejected Goodine’s lawsuit.

The Court found that police officers stand on a different footing for Fourth Amendment purposes when they are the targets of administrative investigations: “Where a police officer is detained by his own police department by an order from a superior officer, however, it is necessary to distinguish between a police department’s actions in its capacity as an employer and its actions as the law enforcement arm of the state. If a police officer feels compelled to comply out of fear of an adverse employment action, he is not ‘seized’ for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. On the other hand, if the police officer complies out of a reasonable belief his movement will be restricted by force or a show of lawful authority, then the officer is ‘seized.’

“In this case, Goodine’s encounter with Internal Affairs constituted an employment-related matter beyond the scope of the Fourth Amendment, because all the circumstances surrounding the encounter indicate it was administrative rather than criminal. First, the uncontradicted record indicates the criminal investigation did not begin until after Goodine’s termination. Second, that no criminal investigation was yet underway was repeatedly communicated to Goodine, both expressly and impliedly. For example, the detention began while Goodine was on duty, Goodine was not arrested or otherwise physically restrained during the encounter, and his compliance was based solely on his obligation to obey orders.

“In addition, during the interview, the Internal Affairs officers offered Goodine Garrity warnings, but they never gave him Miranda warnings. The Garrity warnings included an admonishment to Goodine that failure to respond to questions could result in termination of employment. The statements, however, also advised Goodine ‘the answers that you give in the Internal Affairs investigation…can never be used against you in any criminal proceedings.’ Thus, these warnings explicitly informed Goodine it was his employment, rather than his liberty, which was at stake if he refused to comply with the investigation. Because Goodine’s detention was an employment matter, Goodine was not seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, and there was no constitutional violation.”

Goodine v. City of Chattanooga, 2010 WL 3211682 (E.D. Tenn. 2010).

This article appears in the November 2010 issue