No Free Speech for Cops

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CN) – A police lieutenant claims Suffolk County forced him to retire early after 27 years on the force because he told Newsday about a racist policy in which unlicensed drivers were arrested, rather than merely cited, only “in areas with large populations of Hispanic day laborers.”




     In his federal complaint, Lt. Raymond Smith says he was disciplined, transferred and eventually forced to retire on charges of “improperly communicating with the media” on this and another case.
     The other case involved a man who was convicted of killing his parents in 1990. Smith says he his superiors retaliated against him after he speculated to other officers that there may have been a police conspiracy to convict an innocent man in that case.
     Smith says that after reading news accounts of the trial of Martin Tankleff, a Long Island resident convicted of murdering his wealthy parents, he became convinced that there was credible evidence of a conspiracy that “challenged the integrity of a broad cross-section of Suffolk County’s legal community, from the Department’s Homicide Squad, to a County Judge, to the District Attorney.”
     Tankleff’s conviction was overturned in December 2007.
     “At the time Mr. Smith was corresponding with others about the Tankleff case, the official position of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and the Suffolk County Police Department was that it was a ‘closed case’ that would not be re-opened,” Smith says.
     Smith says he drew heat from his bosses again by speaking against the policy of targeting unlicensed drivers in Latino neighborhoods, which local press and legislators also had denounced “as a hateful and intolerant plan to eradicate immigrants from Suffolk County.”
     After initially withdrawing the policy, Suffolk County Police told Newsday that the police would be reinstated because the American Automobile Association reported that unlicensed drivers were more dangerous than licensed ones, Smith says.
     When Smith downloaded that AAA report, he says, he found that the police department had misrepresented its findings and Newsday had printed the distortions. Smith says he emailed Newsday reporter Christine Armario twice to seek a correction.
     Months later, in late 2007, Smith says, the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau began investigating him, transferred him to another department, disciplined him for “improperly communicating with the media,” and eventually forced him to retire. He says the pretext he was given was unauthorized use of the Internet – a restriction that is honored more in the breach than in the observance.
     He seeks reinstatement and punitive damages for retaliation and constitutional violations from Suffolk County and its Police Commissioner Richard Dormer.
     He is represented by Steven Morelli of Carle Place, N.Y.

%d bloggers like this: