Among the various lawsuits filed by whistleblowers at the NYPD, Officer Craig Matthews' is perhaps the most crucial. Matthews, a 16-year-veteran of the department, complained about the color-coded quota system at the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx, and was subjected to harassment, intimidation, and retributive assignments. He sued, arguing that his speech was protected under the First Amendment. This summer a federal judge ruled that it wasn't. Now Matthews' case is in the hands of the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Joe Goldstein at the Times reports that the case law is against Matthews, given a 2006 Supreme Court decision that ruled “when public employees made statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” (Guess who voted for that decision?)
The City has used this decision to effective neutralize similar claims from whistleblowers like Adrian Schoolcraft, who was held against his will in a psychiatric ward after his superiors realized that he had taped stationhouse conversations documenting quotas and stat-fudging and had been speaking to Internal Affairs.
Yet even in his dismissal of Matthews' claim this summer, Federal Judge Paul Engelmayer noted that there is a "paramount public interest" in Matthews' statements. One judge refused to do so in the case of Detective James Griffith, who was harassed after the came to Internal Affairs to report misconduct.
That judge, Judge Raymond Dearie, wrote that following the City's argument "would effectively curtail all NYPD officers’ right to speak out about corruption, thereby discouraging whistle-blower activity that is of great benefit.” A victory for Matthews would be a victory for whistleblowers.
Sergeant Robert Borrelli, a 19-year-veteran of the department who is also suing for retaliation against his own allegations of systematic crime downgrading in Queens, told the Times, “I kind of regret coming forward. When you try to do the right thing, there is nowhere to go for help, there is no one willing to help you."
In the meantime, how is a police officer possessing information that is of "paramount public interest" and privy only to police officers, supposed to provide it to the public without fear of retribution? Email us. Anonymity is assured.