Ex-Cop With Leash-Law Fixation Loses Appeal

     BOSTON (CN) — Euthanizing a former Massachusetts police officer’s leash-law-inspired crusade, the First Circuit saw no evidence of free-speech violations.
     “Bear with us,” the Aug. 31 decision says, before launching into a 15-page recitation of just the background leading up to former Quincy police officer’s Joseph McGunigle’s appeal.
     The dispute began a decade ago, shortly after McGunigle and his wife bought a home across the street from Quincy’s waterfront. McGunigle was quick to notice that his neighbors regularly allowed their dogs off leash on the beach and never cleaned up after them.
     McGunigle took action after a series of incidents in early 2007 that included his dog getting attacked by an off-leash Great Dane and his wife fighting off an off-leash golden labrador.
     The Quincy Police Department quickly organized a “dog hearing” that ended with the lab’s owner agreeing to keep the dog on leash and to enroll him in obedience training.
     McGunigle was unsatisfied, however, and the department soon began receiving complaints that he was harassing the community about dog ordinances. In addition to writing citations off-duty, McGunigle made several reports to Quincy Animal Control and wrote letters to the mayor, city councilors and the press.
     The officer overturned a five-day suspension around this time for issuing tickets against orders from the brass to stop. Though the dog-ordinance controversy finally abated in summer 2008, memories of it apparently still lingered three years later when McGunigle confiscated traffic cones out of the driveway of his neighbor, Michelle Webber.
     She complained that McGunigle had been “coddling his gun” during the confrontation, and that she remembered from the leash-law brouhaha that McGunigle had anger problems and a penchant for harassing and intimidating the community.
     Suspended pending an investigation, McGunigle was supposed to stay away from the police station but he showed up one afternoon while Webber was there applying for a firearm license.
     Though McGunigle claimed he was only interested in using the ATM in the police station lobby, co-workers suspected he had followed Webber and intended to intimidate her.
     The chief of police found McGunigle unfit to carry a firearm in the ensuing months, and the mayor terminated the officer’s employment shortly thereafter.
     McGunigle fired back in court, claiming he was being punished for speaking with local newspapers during the dog ordinance fiasco. A federal judge disagreed, saying that McGunigle failed to show how his speaking to the newspapers resulted in his termination.
     The First Circuit affirmed last week, saying the chief’s concerns about McGunigle’s temperament seemed reasonable, even when viewing the record favorably to McGunigle.
     “As discussed above, in the lead up to McGunigle’s termination, Chief Keenan received numerous complaints about McGunigle’s handling of the traffic cone incident,” U.S. Circuit Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson wrote for a three-person panel. “Multiple witnesses claimed that McGunigle had been ‘abrasive, loud, and argumentative’ during his interactions with Webber. One witness, who actually described himself as a ‘friend’ of McGunigle’s, added that McGunigle having or ‘carrying a gun was “scary.”‘”

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