Tuesday, February 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cop in Line for Damages After Griping to Press

WASHINGTON (CN) - A detective was unfairly disciplined for informing the Washington Post of problems he found with a new D.C. crime-prevention program, a federal judge ruled.

All Hands on Deck (AHOD), a program recently adopted by the Metropolitan Police Department, attempts to deter crime by flooding certain neighborhoods for a short period of time with officers. It has been criticized, however, for pulling detectives away from their cases.

Detective William Hawkins gave the Washington Post an example of this gripe by saying AHOD led him to tell a burglary victim that he could not work her case for 12 days.

The Post had interviewed Hawkins on his cellphone as he drove in for his shift, and his department sent him a dereliction letter shortly after the story ran.

Hawkins and the Fraternal Order of Police then sued the District of Columbia and the department, and U.S. District Judge Boasberg decided last week that there should be a jury trial on damages.

"In sum, Hawkins emerges victorious on every prong as a matter of law, and the district therefore violated the First Amendment by disciplining him for speaking to the Washington Post," Boasberg wrote.

The interview that Hawkins had given complied with a police department policy of letting officers talk to the media so long as they are off duty and not wearing their uniforms or displaying the MPD insignia, according to the ruling.

In this case, Hawkins had given the interview on his own cellphone, in his own car, prior to his shift.

Though the judge dismissed the whistle-blower claims, he found that the discipline action violated Hawkins' free speech rights.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.