Town Gets Justices’ Look at Ex-Officer’s Self-Incrimination Claims

(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to decide whether a Kansas town must face a lawsuit by a former police officer who says statements he made about keeping a suspect’s knife were unconstitutionally used in criminal proceedings against him.

According to the 10th Circuit’s recap of the events, Matthew Vogt “kept a knife obtained in the course of his work” as a police officer for the city of Hays, Kansas. His acquisition came to light in 2013, when he applied for a position on the Haysville Police Department outside Wichita and told the interviewer about the knife.

The Haysville department offered Vogt the job with a condition: he had to tell the Hays Police Department about the knife. He agreed, submitted a one-sentence declaration about keeping the knife as the Hays chief demanded, and gave his two-week notice.

But the Hays police chief called for a criminal investigation, for which the Kansas Bureau of Investigation was given Vogt’s statements and other evidence. The criminal investigation led Haysville to rescind its job offer and landed Vogt in court facing two felony charges.

A state court judge dismissed the charges against Vogt finding a lack of probable cause. Vogt then sued both Hays and Haysville on a variety of claims, which a federal judge dismissed.

This past January, a 10th Circuit panel agreed Vogt had no case against Haysville or any of its officers named in the lawsuit. However, the panel resurrected Vogt’s claims against the city of Hays, finding he’d sufficiently alleged that his right against self-incrimination was infringed both when he was forced to put his admission about the knife in writing and when that statement was given to investigators.

Furthermore, the panel found because a “final policymaker” – the Hays police chief, for the purposes of discipline within his department – took an unconstitutional action, the city must face Vogt’s civil rights claims.

The city of Hays appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to take up the case without further comment on Thursday, except to note that Justice Neil Gorsuch – formerly of the 10th Circuit – took no part in the consideration or decision of Hays’ petition.

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