A federal judge has ruled that the District acted unconstitutionally when it disciplined a D.C. police detective for publicly criticizing the agency's anti-crime strategy.
In a 23-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg said the city had infringed upon William Hawkins' constitutional protections when it added a record to his personnel file that could affect future promotions and discipline.
"The District ... violated the First Amendment by disciplining him for speaking to the Washington Post," Boasberg wrote.
Hawkins drew the Metropolitan Police Department's attention after he spoke to a Post reporter for a July 2009 story about Chief Cathy Lanier's "All Hands on Deck" initiative to combat crime.
"There are burglaries and serious assaults and armed robberies that are set aside because of [the program,]" Hawkins told the newspaper. "Detectives should be exempt because it jeopardizes cases."
The department later said that Hawkins had violated its policies by speaking to a reporter without authorization from an agency spokesman or his supervisor.
Although Hawkins sought to overturn the department's regulations as unconstitutional, Boasberg said the agency's rules cover "conduct that falls outside of the First Amendment's shelter."
But in the same opinion, Boasberg said the District had trampled on Hawkins' free speech rights by punishing him for his comments.SClBA spokesman for D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan said the city was reviewing the ruling and "considering our response in court."SClBKristopher Baumann, the chairman of the city's police union, said the ruling was a landmark for police officers and other public employees who are "no longer muzzled."
"Government employees who become aware of bad behavior and want to speak out, they have a way to do that," Baumann said. "They didn't have a way to do that before this case."