Officer’s Complaint To State Police Not Constitutionally Protected

Scott Goff was a probationary police officer with Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. In February 2012, Goff received a phone call from the wife of another university police officer who said that her husband had threatened her with a gun. She asked Goff if he would help her select a gun for her self-defense.

Sometime later, Goff received another phone call from the same woman, and based on that conversation, he believed that the woman was in imminent danger of deadly harm from her estranged husband. Goff called the State Police to have them intervene to protect her. The University later claimed that Goff and the woman were having a romantic relationship at the time. Goff and the woman were subsequently married.

The State Police called the University’s Police Chief, informing him that Goff had made a report of the other officer’s conduct to the State Police. In short order the University terminated Goff. Goff then sued, contending that his report to the State Police was protected by the First Amendment.

A federal trial court upheld Goff’s termination. In an opinion somewhat dripping in sarcasm directed towards Goff, the Court commented that “it is clear that Goff made the telephone call to the State Police not just as a private citizen, but as a fellow law enforcement officer and public employee. If he had called purely as a private citizen, the State Police would have neither known of his employment nor been able to notify his superiors at the Kutztown University Police Department of the call. It is more than likely that Goff informed the State Police of his position in law enforcement with hopes that the matter would be handled with some degree of dispatch.

“However, Goff’s call to the State Police concerned a purely private matter. While it is admirable that Goff suggests that any threat of domestic violence is a matter of public concern, he is mistaken under these circumstances. The report by the State Police indicates that Goff called after he received a text from his co-worker’s son that his father was threatening his mother with a gun. The report also indicates that Goff’s co-worker ‘was divorcing his wife and that she began to see his best friend who is also a Kutztown University Police Officer. Goff made the call as the then-boyfriend of his co-worker’s wife whom he was trying to rescue. The call was not a global or societal effort to eradicate domestic violence, but a matter of personal interest to Goff.

“As such, Goff’s conduct cannot be fairly characterized as constituting speech on a matter of public concern, and the University’s employment decision cannot be found to have violated Goff’s First Amendment rights. When employee expression cannot be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, government officials should enjoy wide latitude in managing their offices, without intrusive oversight by the judiciary in the name of the First Amendment.”

Goff v. Kutztown University, 2014 WL 5390477 (E.D. Pa. 2014).