Garcetti topples Conn. police officer’s whistleblower suit

Monday, April 18, 2011

Garcetti claimed another victim recently when a federal judge cited the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in dismissing a Connecticut police officer’s whistleblower lawsuit.

Sgt. Andrew N. Matthews had uncovered suspected corruption while serving as an internal affairs officer for the Connecticut State Police. He learned, and investigators later confirmed, that the state police had a pattern and practice of covering up various acts of misconduct by police officers, including driving while intoxicated, domestic violence, misuse of state funds and other acts of malfeasance.

Matthews spoke about the problems with the Connecticut Attorney General’s office and the New York State Police, which had been asked to investigate possible misconduct by the Connecticut State Police. After his whistle-blowing, Matthews’ superiors removed him from his office to keep him away from other officers. Several of his superiors then initiated an investigation into the plaintiff for conduct alleged to have occurred years earlier.

Matthews’ attorney Jacques J. Parenteau told the First Amendment Center that “among other things [Matthews] spent more than a year with no office — (having) only his cruiser without any meaningful work.” Parenteau added that Matthews “lost overtime and was retaliated against in promotion.”

Matthews responded by filing a federal lawsuit, claiming officials retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton, however, dismissed Matthews’ lawsuit last week. Ruling April 11 in Matthews v. Lynch, Eginton cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 decision Garcetti v. Ceballos, in which the Court ruled that public employees have no First Amendment rights when it comes to job-duty speech.

Eginton noted that Matthews core job duty was to report corruption as an internal affairs officer.

“[Matthews] further alleged that his job duties include investigating complaints of trooper misconduct,” Eginton wrote. “These activities lead to the conclusion that plaintiff spoke pursuant to his professional duties, and, therefore, his speech is not protected by the First Amendment under Garcetti.

Matthews and his attorney emphasized that his complaints went outside his chain of command to the state attorney general. Eginton was not convinced, writing that Matthews “raises the form of his actions over the substance.” He concluded that Matthews’ “actions in informing authorities about misconduct within the CSP, however laudatory, was done in accordance with his professional duties and responsibilities as a state trooper.”

Parenteau disagreed with the judge’s conclusion and said “it is likely that we will appeal.”

“Reporting corruption in the internal affairs unit is a matter of public concern,” he said. “Reporting retaliation against those who report corruption in the chain of command to the attorney is also conduct that should be promoted.”

An attorney for the defendants did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story.

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