NYCLU Victory in NYPD Quota Case Protects Speech of Officers, Public Employees

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
February 26, 2015 12:09 pm

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In a victory for the free speech rights of police officers and all public employees, a federal appeals court this morning ruled that when an NYPD officer and whistleblower exposed an illegal quota system in his Bronx precinct that his speech was protected. The case was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Quotas lead to illegal arrests, criminal summonses and ruined lives. They undermine the trust between the police and the people they are supposed to be protecting and serving,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case. “Today’s decision protects the ability of police officers to speak out against this kind of misconduct when they see it. New York City’s finest should be applauded when they expose abuse, not abused and retaliated against.”

Officer Craig Matthews, a 17-year veteran of the NYPD, has been subject to a wide range of retaliation after he repeatedly reported a detailed quota system in the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx to his supervisors. In retaliation, he was been given punitive assignments, denied overtime and leave, separated from his longtime partner, given poor evaluations, and subjected to constant harassment and threats.

The NYCLU filed suit on Matthews’ behalf in 2012. A federal judge last year ruled that his speech was not protected by the First Amendment, however, because he spoke as a public employee and not a citizen. Today’s decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reverses that decision, allowing the NYCLU’s case to proceed.

The 42nd Precinct’s quota system reflects a wider problem within the NYPD. For years, the Department has been mired in scandals about its use of quotas that lead to unjustified stops and arrests of innocent people. Starting in May 2010, the Village Voice ran a series of articles exposing a quota system in the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn as revealed by audio tapes secretly made by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft. A police officer in Queens admitted that the use of enforcement quotas led officers to plant cocaine on innocent people in order to boost arrest numbers.

In August 2010, then-Gov. David Paterson signed legislation that expanded protections for police officers under the state’s anti-quota statute to ban retaliation against officers for not meeting quotas for tickets, summonses, arrests, and stop-and-frisk encounters. Previously, the quota law only covered traffic violations.

“Officer Matthews has followed the oath he made to uphold the Constitution and his community,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Instead of retaliating against officers who expose unjust and illegal practices, the NYPD should work to ensure that nobody is arrested because of arbitrary and illegal quotas.”

In addition to Dunn, counsel on the case include NYCLU Attorney Erin Harrist, Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg and Senior Staff Attorney Alexis Karteron. The NYCLU’s lawsuit was originally filed with students enrolled in the New York University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic.

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