ACLU Defends NYC Officer Who Was Fired After Testifying About Problem Police

April 26, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, April 26, 1999

NEW YORK — Last Monday, Yvette Walton testified before the Public Safety Committee of the New York City Council regarding accounts of racial profiling and civil rights violations in the Street Crimes Unit, the unit responsible for the shooting of Amadou Diallo.

ct herself from retaliation by her colleagues. But approximately 30 minutes after completing her testimony, she was informed that she was dismissed from the NYPD, without any written explanation of the reasons.

Officer Walton had served as a police officer for the New York City Police Department for 12 years, from 1987-1999, and was a member of the Street Crimes Unit from 1993 to 1995.

We believe that 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.

This morning, attorney Regina Felton and lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Police Commissioner Howard Safir asking him to reinstate Officer Walton or promptly inform us of a lawful justification for her dismissal. If we get no response or an unsatisfactory response, we will proceed with a civil rights lawsuit on Officer Walton’s behalf.

In our letter, we reminded the commissioner that government employees — including police officers — have a First Amendment right to speak publicly about non-confidential matters that bear upon the policies and practices of their employers. As the Supreme Court of the United States has observed, “Government employees are often in the best position to know what ails the agencies for which they work; public debate may gain much from their informed opinions.”

This observation is particularly relevant in the wake of the February 4, 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo and the resulting public controversy surrounding the Street Crimes Unit.

We must be vigilant in making sure the City’s climate is one that does not chill or stifle government employees — including police officers — from coming forward and speaking out. If the climate chills this whistleblower expression, not only do we violate the First Amendment rights of government employees, we all lose because of the consequential lack of information, perspectives and opinions on issues of public concern.

The NYCLU letter can be found at:

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