Attorneys for fired policewoman seek ‘lawful justification’ for dismissal

Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Attorneys for a former New York City policewoman dismissed shortly after testifying before a City Council committee about alleged police abuses in the Street Crimes Unit have demanded that she be reinstated.

On April 19, Yvette Walton, a 12-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, was dismissed from her job 30 minutes after she told the Public Safety Commission about racial profiling and civil rights abuses in the Street Crimes Unit, where she served from 1993 to 1995. The Street Crimes Unit has come under fire after four of its officers shot and killed an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, in February.

Walton wore a hooded jacket and dark glasses during her testimony to conceal her identity.

Walton's attorney, Regina Felton, and attorneys with the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a hand-delivered letter April 26 to New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir, asking for a “lawful justification of her dismissal.”

The letter stated that, in the absence of such a justification, “we will file suit on her behalf if she is not properly reinstated.”

“As you undoubtedly are aware, government employees — including Police Officers — have a constitutional right to speak publicly about nonconfidential matters that bear upon the policies and practices of their employers,” the letter said.

Norman Siegal, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, stated in a news release: “We believe Officer Walton had a First Amendment right to address the City Council and to express the views she expressed and that the NYPD had no power to discipline her for her exercise of that fundamental right.”

However, the police department said that Walton, who was on “dismissal probation” at the time she appeared before the Public Safety Committee, was not fired because of her testimony but for unrelated violations of department policy.

“Ms. Walton has an extensive disciplinary history and a record of an excessive use of sick days,” department spokesman Cory Cuneo said. He said that Walton had taken nearly 300 sick days during her career. He also said she violated department policy by not remaining at home during a few of her sick days and by showing insubordination to a higher ranking officer.

The letter sent to Safir on behalf of Walton states: “We are aware that Officer Walton was on dismissal probation and that she was facing additional minor discipline, but the timing and circumstances of the Department's action indicate that it fired her because of her testimony and presence at the City Council hearing.”

Cuneo responded: “Commissioner Safir had signed off on a recommendation to terminate Ms. Walton one week before she testified. The police department had no idea who she was when she testified.”

However, Arthur Eisenberg, legal director for the NYCLU, said the timing of the notification of dismissal “certainly makes it look it suspicious.”

“It appears that the department has engaged in extraordinary procedures with respect to the disciplining of Ms. Walton,” he said. “We are awaiting a formal response from the city.”