AKRON, OH – A $30,000 settlement has been reached in the court case of a longtime Akron police officer who was transferred after he criticized the department in a union newsletter.
Officer Kevin Davis worked in the department’s training bureau for 15 years until August, a month after he wrote the article for the newsletter. The 26-year veteran was transferred to the patrol division.
As part of the settlement, Davis was transferred back to the training bureau, and Police Chief James Nice was ordered to pen an apology to Davis.
Davis said the article he wrote discussed the closing of Akron’s police academy eight years ago. He claimed closing the academy meant officers were getting inadequate training before joining the force, which led to more improper use of force.
He said his transfer was retaliation for the article.
“It’s not considered a demotion because I held the same rank,” Davis said. “But I felt like it was clearly a punishment.”
Frank Williams, president of the Akron police union, said Davis’ article wasn’t the first one with which the chief took issue. He said the chief on several occasions threatened to take action against either former union president Paul Hlynsky or other officers who wrote them.
Williams said the money from the settlement — which was reached in December — will help pay for attorney fees, but Davis and the union were more excited about the apology and Davis’ return to his former post.
“Hopefully, this kind of thing won’t happen anymore,” Williams said.
In the lawsuit, Davis and the union accused the chief of violating the officer’s First Amendment right to free speech. Criticism is a protected form of free speech, according to case law.
But the chief, in an interview Thursday, said his concern was never about criticism — it was about accuracy.
“They have a right to talk to their members, but when it’s blatant lies in the union newsletter, they go home and feel angry about it,” he said, “which makes me feel angry about it.”
He declined to specify what falsehoods were published in the newsletter.
Nice said the settlement was reached because it would have been more expensive to fight the lawsuit. The apology Nice issued was a requirement of the settlement, he said.
“I said exactly what they wanted me to say,” Nice said. “I wrote that I regretted transferring him and that his performance evaluations in recent years were exemplary.”
Davis said he would have preferred for Nice to have talked directly to him instead of transferring him.
“He never reached out to me or to Paul Hlynsky or to the editor, to my knowledge, with these concerns,” he said. “Would it not have been better and more professional to talk to me about it before punishing me?”