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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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NYPD Quota Whistle-Blower’s Lawsuit Revived

MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City police officers have free speech rights too, just as long as they talk though civilian channels, the 2nd Circuit ruled Thursday.

The potentially groundbreaking decision allows NYPD Officer Craig Matthews to sue the department for allegedly retaliating against him after he blew the whistle on police quotas in the Bronx, implemented in 2008.

Attorneys for Matthews say the decision could also unmuzzle public employees of all stripes.

Matthews, a 17-year police veteran of the 42nd Precinct, said that he started reporting issues with the policy to his then-commander, Capt. Timothy Brugge, in early 2009.

Two years later, Matthews said that trouble started after he told Brugge's successor, Capt. Jon Bloch, that the quota policy caused "unjustified stops, arrests, and summonses because police officers felt forced to abandon their discretion in order to meet their numbers."

He added that this "was having an adverse effect on the precinct's relationship with the community," according to his complaint.

The brass allegedly responded by subjecting Matthews to punitive assignments, poor evaluations, separation from his longtime partner, denials of overtime and leave, and constant harassment and threats.

His supervisor, Lt. Mark Sedran, allegedly told him during a roll call: "If you come after me, I will come back after you harder."

Matthews sued New York City, ex-Commissioner Ray Kelly, Bloch and Sedran in 2012.

His lawsuit stumbled as two federal judges separately found themselves unable to overcome the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos.

The Garcetti majority created a rule finding that government employees have no protections for speech that is "pursuant to" their jobs. It rejected a claim that the Los Angeles district attorney denied a promotion to an employee who criticized a bad warrant.

On Thursday, a 2nd Circuit panel unanimously found that Garcetti was no bar for Matthews, who "did not follow internal grievance procedures."

"Matthews chose a path that was available to ordinary citizens who are regularly provided the opportunity to raise issues with the precinct commanders," Judge John Walker wrote for the court. "Captain Bloch stated that he attended nearly every monthly community council meeting. And Captain Bugge testified that one to three times per month he met with members of the community to discuss issues in the precinct. Matthews reported his concerns about the arrest quota system to the same officers who regularly heard civilian complaints about precinct policing issues."

U.S. District Judge J. Garvin Murtha, sitting by designation from Vermont, rounded out the panel with the 2nd Circuit's Judge Peter Hall.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents Matthews, hailed the ruling as a "victory for the free speech rights of police officers and all public employees."

"Quotas lead to illegal arrests, criminal summonses and ruined lives. They undermine the trust between the police and the people they are supposed to be protecting and serving," the NYCLU's associate legal director Christopher Dunn said in a statement. "Today's decision protects the ability of police officers to speak out against this kind of misconduct when they see it. New York City's finest should be applauded when they expose abuse, not abused and retaliated against."

The New York City Law Department said it was reviewing the decision.

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