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Monday, April 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Officer’s Statements To Media Aren’t Protected

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A Houston police officer's allegedly "caustic, offensive and disrespectful" statements to the media and in his monthly column for a regional periodical were not protected speech, the 5th Circuit ruled.

In his column, "The Insider," Thomas Nixon wrote about police activities from his perspective. The publication received several complaints that Nixon's articles denigrated certain citizens, including minorities, women and the homeless.

After an investigation, the Houston Police Department determined that Nixon's column "violated numerous HPD policies and undermined the efficiency" of the department. The HPD suspended him for 15 days without pay.

A few weeks before his suspension began, he volunteered to make a media statement about a high-speed police chase that ended in the fleeing suspect colliding into an innocent motorist's car. Having arrived on shift after watching the chase on television, Nixon told local television reporters that police were wrong to call off the pursuit, and that he was "embarrassed to be a police officer" because the department did not stop the suspect.

The next day, he continued his criticism of the department by calling into radio talk shows and giving multiple television interviews.

The HPD launched another investigation that ended with Nixon getting effectively fired, a decision the circuit affirmed.

"We view (Nixon's) comments deriding and insulting the community not as legitimate criticism of police practices but as a direct blow to the relationship with the community HPD serves, and HPD must be able to prohibit such speech if it is to perform its function and maintain its professionalism," Judge Benavides wrote. See ruling.

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