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Chief Wins $4.1 Million In Free Speech Lawsuit

Doug Greisen was the chief of police for the City of Scappoose, Oregon. In 2012, after more than ten years in that position, he became suspicious about the city’s accounting and budgeting practices. He worried Jon Hanken, the city manager, was hiding something. Greisen believed Hanken was suspiciously defensive about the budget, improperly delayed paying invoices at the end of the fiscal year and had weakened the city’s external…

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Firing Of Former Sheriff’s Wife Does Not Violate The First Amendment

Tamela Muir, Bert Muir, and Ben Boswell worked for the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) in Iowa. Tamela began working for the DCSO in November 1996 as a jailer and dispatcher. Her employment was at-will. Bert started working for the DCSO on March 19, 1998, when he was elected Sheriff. He hired Boswell as a Deputy Sheriff in September 2001. Tamela and Bert were married in January 2008, and…

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Barring Criticism Of City Is Unlawful ‘Prior Restraint’ Of Speech

Thelma Barone was a Community Service Officer II with the Springfield Police Department in Oregon. Barone focused on victim advocacy and served as a Department liaison to the City’s minority communities. Throughout her tenure, members of the Latino community complained to Barone about alleged racial profiling by the Department. She relayed these complaints to Department leadership. These complaints became more frequent beginning in the spring of 2013. Around that…

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Refusal To Change Report Not Protected Speech

Lorenzo Davis was a supervisor for Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority. The Authority investigated certain types of complaints against Chicago police, including domestic violence, excessive force, and death in police custody. After investigating such allegations, the Authority made a disciplinary recommendation to the Chicago Police in the form of a report. The report summarized the investigation and included findings on the alleged misconduct: namely, whether the allegations were “sustained,”…

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Internal Grievances Not Protected By The First Amendment

Booth James had worked for the Montgomery, Alabama Regional Airport Authority for approximately 15 years as a Third Shift Police Supervisor when he observed misconduct concerning the evidence impound of the Transportation Security Administration. After discussing these concerns with his supervisors and others, James sent a grievance letter to the Airport’s Board of Directors, detailing issues about public safety and falsified misconduct within the Airport Police Department. When the…

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Testimony In Court Not Always Constitutionally Protected

With the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Lane v. Franks, some believed that a firm rule had been established that the off-duty testimony in court by a public employee was absolutely constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, and could not be the basis for discipline. A recent decision from the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals shows that the lower courts are not giving such an expansive reading to…

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Fire Department’s Email Policy Violates First Amendment

Jonathan Sprague served as a firefighter, and eventually as a captain, for the Spokane Valley Fire Department (SVFD) in Washington. During his employment, Sprague and other SVFD employees formed the Spokane County Christian Firefighter Fellowship. Sprague created a list of work email addresses for 46 firefighters that he believed were interested in the Fellowship’s activities. Sprague began using SVFD’s email system to send emails about the Fellowship’s activities. SVFD’s…

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‘Quintessential Employee Beef’ Not Protected By First Amendment

Scottie Bagi and Gary Vojtush are firefighters and medics for the City of Parma, Ohio. The Department maintains a Tactical Emergency Medical Specialist (TEMS) unit consisting of specially trained firefighter medics who provide emergency medical support to the city police department’s SWAT team in high-risk situations. In the event of an injury, TEMS unit members treat the police first, then innocent bystanders, then criminals. In 2011, Bagi drafted a…

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Highway Patrol’s Overbroad Policies Violate Free Speech Rights

In 2011, Nevada Highway Patrol Major Kevin Tice sent an email to the members of the Patrol’s Canine Drug Interdiction Program. The email established a new policy on public comments about the Program, and provided: “As we reengage in K9 and interdiction program oversight at the regional command level, it is important to ensure appropriate flow of communication. It is critical that we identify and resolve issues and inconsistencies…

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Court Upholds Termination for Captain’s Trayvon Martin Facebook Post

Michael Snipes worked as a law enforcement captain with the Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue Department of Volusia County, Florida. Shortly before the events culminating in Snipe’s termination occurred, the Beach Patrol was involved in a public scandal involving adult employees and underage females which significantly, and negatively, affected its reputation in the community. Although Snipes was not involved in that scandal, he was aware of its impact on…

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Complaint About Fire Chief’s Nazi Behavior Given Mixed Protection

James Dumas is a firefighter at St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 3 in Louisiana, and is the vice-president of the firefighters’ union. In May 2016, the Union submitted a letter to the District’s Civil Service Board expressing a “vote of no confidence” in Fire Chief Patrick Sicard. The letter alleged that Sicard violated several provisions of civil service law, including failing to perform the duties of his position…

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Facebook Posts Cost Battalion Chief His Job

Kevin Buker was a battalion chief with the Howard County, Maryland Department of Fire and Rescue Services. In 2011, the Department developed a social media policy, in part in response to a racially-tinged Facebook post from a volunteer firefighter. The Policy prohibits employees “from posting or publishing statements, opinions or information that might reasonably be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent when such…

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Chief’s Secretary’s Affidavit Not Protected Speech

Firma Helget worked for the City of Hays, Kansas, as the administrative secretary for the Hays Police Department. One of Helget’s official duties was to act as the Department’s purchasing agent. In November 2010, she prepared a list of officers who were due new ballistic vests in the upcoming year. Helget presented the list to then-Assistant Police Chief Philip Hartsfield, who instructed her to remove Officer Blaine Dryden from…

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Firefighter Loses Job Over Family Dispute Between Supervisors

Glen Naghtin was a firefighter for the Montague, Michigan Fire Department. Two brothers, Donald and Dennis Roesler, also worked for the Department. Donald was a unit captain and Dennis was the Fire Chief. In 2009, the Fire District’s Board authorized the construction of a new fire station. After construction had commenced, Donald Roesler began expressing concerns about the structure, including numerous fire-code violations and deviations from the station’s planned…

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Racial Facebook Post Not Constitutionally Protected

Adam Meadors was a police officer for the Meridian, Mississippi Police Department. Meadors posted to his public Facebook page a photo depicting two chimpanzees laughing with the following caption: “Earlier today, the mayor and the chief of police had a meeting.” He commented on the photo, saying: “Something will probably be said, but I couldn’t resist.” After a few minutes, however, he removed the photo. Meadors was on duty…

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Social Networking Policy Violates Free Speech Rights

Herbert Liverman and Vance Richards were veteran police officers for the City of Petersburg, Virginia. In April 2013, the Police Chief issued a general order revising the Department’s social networking policy. The preface to the revised policy prohibited in sweeping terms the dissemination of any information “that would tend to discredit or reflect unfavorably upon the Department or any other City of Petersburg Department or its employees.” The central…

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Fire Chief Loses Free Speech Claim

Jonah Holbrook was the Fire Chief for the Village of Lincoln Heights, Ohio. In 2014, the Village received notification that its liability insurance coverage would be terminated. The termination was due to the number of claims made against the Village in the prior 14 years. Over that time frame, the amount of losses covered by the insurance pool in which the Village participated totaled $1,282,815, which far exceeded the…

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No-Confidence Votes A Risky Proposition In Non-Union States

Under the rule in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the First Amendment only protects the speech of public employees if they “speak as a citizen on a matter of public concern.” In a union environment, there is little question but that a no-confidence vote on the performance of a chief is protected speech, and is a matter of public concern. However, a very different result can be…

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Supreme Court Reinstates Officer’s Free Speech Lawsuit

In 2005, Jeffrey Heffernan was a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey. He worked in the office of the Chief of Police, James Wittig. At that time, the mayor of Paterson, Jose Torres, was running for reelection against Lawrence Spagnola. Torres had appointed both Chief Wittig and a subordinate who directly supervised Heffernan to their current positions. Heffernan was a good friend of Spagnola’s. During the campaign, Heffernan’s mother,…

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Comments About Gays Not Protected Speech

Loudesia Flanagan was a records specialist for the Richmond, California Police Department. Over her tenure, Flanagan received numerous positive performance evaluations, but her career was also marked by disciplinary actions and complaints. On September 16, 2004, December 27, 2004, and January 5, 2005, Flanagan received separate reprimands for leaving work without permission, failing to follow sick leave reporting procedures, and insubordination. In July 2006, Flanagan received a three-month pay…

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Complaint About Chief’s Affairs Not Protected Speech

As a recent New Jersey case shows, the Garcetti rule marches on and is alive and well. In Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the Supreme Court held that if a public employee engages in speech (e.g., writes or says something) as part of the job, the First Amendment gives the employee no protection, and the employer is free to retaliate against the employee even if the speech…

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Political Patronage OK In North Carolina Sheriff’s Office

Terri Young was a deputy sheriff employed by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. In June 2009, Sheriff Daniel Bailey sent a letter to approximately 1,350 of his employees, announcing his candidacy for reelection and stating that he would appreciate campaign contributions. Young did not contribute to Bailey’s reelection campaign or volunteer for his campaign. Bailey was reelected in November 2010, and a month later he fired Young. Young sued the…

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Dallas Dispatcher Can Be Fired For Running For Office

Micah Phillips began working for the Dallas, Texas Fire Department in April 1999. He was working as a fire dispatcher when, in December 2011, he announced his candidacy for the Dallas County Commissioners Court. The City fired him, citing a provision in the city charter that employees who run for elective office within Dallas County “shall immediately forfeit his or her place or position with the City.” The federal…

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Mere Threats Not Enough For Free Speech Lawsuit

The Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff’s Association represents sworn and unsworn employees who work for the Contra Costa County, California Sheriff’s Office. The Association sued the County, alleging that the County and four members of the Board of Supervisors violated the Association’s free speech rights by making threats in retaliation for the Association’s participation in a petition drive to overturn a supervisor salary increase passed by the Board of…

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Mere Threats Not Enough For Free Speech Lawsuit

The Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff’s Association represents sworn and unsworn employees who work for the Contra Costa County, California Sheriff’s Office. The Association sued the County, alleging that the County and four members of the Board of Supervisors violated the Association’s free speech rights by making threats in retaliation for the Association’s participation in a petition drive to overturn a supervisor salary increase passed by the Board of…

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