First Federal Appeals Court Plain View Project Case

The Plain View Project (PVP) was started in 2016 by a group of Philadelphia attorneys who believed that what they identified as racist and religiously biased social media posts by law enforcement officers “could erode civilian trust and confidence in police.” The PVP “hoped that police departments will investigate and address them immediately.” In 2019, when the PVP posted the database of social media posts it had created covering…

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Has The Supreme Court Slightly Opened The Free Speech Door?

It is hard to overstate the impact on public safety employee free speech rights produced by the 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. In Garcetti, a deeply-divided Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of public employee free speech law. The decision held that if speech is “ordinarily within the job duties” of the public employee, it has no constitutional protection under the First Amendment. Garcetti has led to…

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Confederate Flag Costs Sergeant Her Job

Sergeant Silvia Cotriss worked for the City of Roswell, Georgia. The City began investigating Cotriss when it received a complaint that she was flying a Confederate battle flag in her front yard, sometimes with her police cruiser present. During the investigation, Cotriss admitted that there had been two Confederate-like flags separately displayed on a flagpole underneath an American flag at her home since 2015, sometimes when her police cruiser…

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Federal Court Halts Firefighter Shift Change On Free Speech Grounds

On December 4, 2019, East Chicago Fire Chief Anthony Serna (who has since retired), acting at the direction of Mayor Anthony Cope­land, issued a memorandum to his firefighters that a new schedule would be instituted. The old schedule was the standard 24 hours on, 48 hours off schedule employed by most fire departments in the country. As a federal trial court put it, “Chief Serna did not give the…

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No Obligation Arbitrate Free Speech Claims

George Forbush is an officer with the Sparks Police Department in Nevada and is a member of the Sparks Police Protective Association. The Association’s contract with the City contains a disci­plinary clause providing: “No post-pro­bationary employee will be disciplined or discharged without just cause.” In 2020, Forbush posted a variety of comments from his personal Twitter account. In response to a video depicting several individuals attempting to light an…

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When Unprotected ‘Employee Speech’ Becomes Protected ‘Citizen Speech’

Scott Specht works as a fire marshal for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where his primary responsibilities involved investigating the origins of fires. In that capacity, Specht investigated a fire in March 2018 that destroyed a five-story brownstone in Manhattan where a motion picture was being filmed. The fire resulted in serious damage to the building and the death of a firefighter. Over the course of his…

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Leaking Info To Press Not Part Of Firefighter’s Job

Sean DeCrane started as a firefighter with the City of Cleveland’s Division of Fire in the 1990s, eventually working his way up to battalion chief. In August 2012, DeCrane became the director of training at the City’s Fire Training Academy. Ed­ward Eckart is an assistant director in the Department of Public Safety that oversees the Division of Fire. DeCrane applied to be the chief of the Division of Fire….

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Probation Officer Loses Free Speech Claim By Not Showing ‘But For’

Randall Knight was a probation officer for Nassau County, New York. Knight was terminated by the County in 2015 for his conduct during two incidents. The first incident involved Knight responding combatively and uncooperatively when Judy Arroyo, a City of Long Beach police officer, pulled him over for running a red light. The second incident involved Knight confronting Martha Del Valle, his partner probation officer, in an intimidating manner…

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Memo About Moldy Police Station Not Constitutionally Protected

Gerald Olbek was the deputy chief of the Wildwood Police Department in Florida. After a series of events that included a fire at the Department’s station, Olbek became concerned that the station had a serious mold problem. Olbek wrote a memo detailing the mold issues. The memo cited the fact that numerous employees had com­plained of health conditions related to mold and that the City had tried to remedy…

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Deputy Fired After Supporting Husband’s Losing Campaign For Sheriff

Sabrina Tice began working for the Sheriff’s Department in Lincoln County, Oklahoma as a full-time deputy in 2012. Charlie Dougherty was the elected Sheriff. Tice’s husband, John Tice, also worked as a deputy with the Department. In 2015, Mr. Tice was indicted on criminal charges related to an alleged excessive use of force. Given the charges, the Department terminated Mr. Tice’s employment. Tice was unhappy about the termination decision…

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Constitution Protects Against ‘Compelled Speech’

Michael Gala is a Deputy Assistant Chief with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). On May 18, 2020, Gala met with Chief of Department John Sudnik and Chief of Fire Operations Thomas Richardson and was informed that he would be promoted to Assistant Chief of Department on May 23. However, Chief Sudnik explained that the Fire Commissioner wanted Gala to send an email, recanting opinions that he had…

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SWAT Sniper Entitled To Jury Trial In Facebook Case

You know a court’s opinion will be anything but run-of-the-mill when it begins: “Social media has allowed Americans to connect with friends in far-flung places and to share their opinions on topics both mundane and momentous. But social media can also tempt people to impulsively make inflammatory comments that they later regret. And even worse for them, employers often react by firing or punishing them for their ill-advised remarks….

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Houston District Fire Chief Loses Social Media Case

Steven Dunbar, a District Chief for the Houston Fire Department (HFD), made a post in a private social media group for HFD firefighters in July 2019. Discussing a transfer opportunity HFD had posted the month before, he wrote: “If you are thinking about putting in for a spot in District 64 on C-shift you better have your sh** together. Wanna play games like previously-assigned members? You will be miserable…promise.”…

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Federal Court Upholds Facebook Discipline

Ariel Lindsay has been a Cook County, Illinois deputy sheriff since2004, and was assigned to the Court Services Unit in the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. From July 6, 2016, through July 8, 2016, Lindsay made several posts to her Facebook account. Those posts referenced the July 2016 shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, and the public sentiment towards law enforcement officers. When she made her posts, Lindsay…

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Reporting Corruption Not Protected By First Amendment

Detective John Butcher of Saginaw County, Michigan seized $22,583 in cash from Pierre Najjar during a narcotics investigation. When Najjar agreed to pay the Sheriff’s Department the money seized from him in lieu of entering formal civil forfeiture proceedings, Butcher delivered the money to Garrett DeWyse, the Department’s property and evidence room manager. A few weeks later, Butcher asked DeWyse to release $2,000 of the funds to pay for…

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EMS Captain’s Facebook Post May Be Constitutionally Protected

Jamie Marquardt was a captain with City of Cleveland’s Department of Emergency Medical Services. Marquardt had a “private” Facebook page which did not identify him as a City employee. A little more than a year after a Cleveland police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a post appeared on Marquardt’s Facebook page: “Let me be the first on record to have the balls to say Tamir Rice should…

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Refusal To Amend Report Not Constitutionally Protected

Kelvin Lett was an investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a municipal office tasked with reviewing allegations of police misconduct. In 2016, Lett was working on an investigation into police involvement in a civilian shooting. The office’s Chief Administrator, Sharon Fairley, directed him to include in the report a finding that police officers had planted a gun on the victim of the shooting. Lett refused because he…

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Firefighter’s ‘Clueless Idiots’ Comment Not Protected By First Amendment

Larry Moreau, Jr., was a captain with the St. Landry Fire Protection District No. 3 in Louisiana. In May 2017, Moreau was accused of refusing to participate in a fire training exercise. At a pre-disciplinary hearing before the District’s Board, Moreau explained that he did not participate because of an on-the-job injury that he failed to report. The Board voted to issue Moreau a formal letter of reprimand, but…

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Advising Fellow Officer About Running For Office Protected By First Amendment

Bill Williams is a sergeant in the Allentown, Pennsylvania Police Department. Williams commanded the Youth Division, where he was responsible for developing public programs for the City’s youth and improving recruitment efforts for the police force. In January 2017, one of Williams’ co-workers in the Youth Division approached him off duty, seeking advice on whether he could run for political office. The co-worker told Williams that he was considering…

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Firefighter Fired For Refusing Vaccination, Accommodation

Brett Horvath was employed as a driver/pump operator by the City of Leander Fire Department in Texas. Horvath is an ordained Baptist minister and objects to vaccinations as a tenet of his religion. In 2014, two years after he was hired, the Department adopted an infection control plan that directed fire department personnel to receive flu vaccines. Horvath sought an exemption from the directive on religious grounds, and the…

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Officer’s Firing For Facebook Posts Upheld

Anthony Venable, who had been an officer with the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Police Department (MNPD) since 2007, engaged in a Facebook conversation regarding the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota. At the time, Venable was off-duty and the shooting had happened just the day before. During the course of the conversation, Venable posted a number of comments, including: “Yeah, I would have done 5,” in response to…

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Sergeant’s $1.9 Million Verdict Reduced To $2,700

Pennsylvania State Police Sergeant David Holt II filed suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and four of his supervisors. Holt alleged multiple instances of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and contrary to the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment. A jury returned a partial verdict, thereby necessitating a second trial. Holt prevailed on several of…

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Officer’s Discipline For Text Message Upheld

On April 27, 2017, Cleveland Police Officer Sean Gorman received a call to go to a Cleveland strip club. He texted Officer Aaron Petitt to ask for help. The following exchange of messages ensued: “Gorman: Stop down to hustler apparently there are some middle eastern types giving people a hard time we are in route.Petitt: Packing up. Be there soon.Gorman: Take your time.Gorman: Sorry for bothering you SirPetitt: Never…

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As ‘Experience Is The Best Teacher,’ State Can Set Requirements For Sheriff Candidacy

To be elected county sheriff in California, a person must meet certain law enforcement experience and education requirements set forth in the state’s government code. In 2018, local business owner Bruce Boyer filed a candidate application to be placed on the ballot for Ventura County Sheriff in an upcoming primary election, Boyer did not have the experience required by the statute. When the county clerk refused to place his…

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Cooperation With FBI Protected By First Amendment

On January 4, 2012, four members of the Hillview, Kentucky Police Department – James Barrow, Leo Cook, Police Chief Glenn Caple and Kenneth Straughn – went to the home of Mayor James Eadens after Eadens reported suspicious activity on his property. Eadens was not home when the officers arrived, but his son Allen was there. While looking around the yard, Straughn found a backpack tucked inside a tire behind…

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