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New York Court Defines First Amendment for NYPD Employees
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On Thursday, Manhattan federal court Judge Barbara Jones dismissed a lawsuit brought by a NYPD officer alleging punishment by superiors because of his criticism of unfair quotas for arrests, stop-and-frisks and summonses. The court held that the actions of officer Craig Matthews were not protected by the First Amendment, because he performed them in the role of a NYPD officer and not a general citizen.

Craig Matthews, a 14-year veteran of NYPD and on the 42nd precinct filed his complaint both against the city and NYPD in February. He claimed that his supervisors had retaliated against him for criticizing an ever-worsening regime of illegal work quota, and that his supervisors had violated his First Amendment Rights.

However, the court held that though the concerns of the plaintiff were “a matter of public concern” the criticisms he had made were in the capacity of his job-role and therefore not protected by the First Amendment.


The court distinguished the situation of Matthews from an earlier case where an officer was entitled to First Amendment protections when he refused to make false statements, and was dismissed by superiors. In that case, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had held that the First Amendment protected the actions of a NYPD officer when he denounced the use of excessive force by his colleague, and was later dismissed because he did not withdraw his complaint.

The Court of Appeals, in the case of Jason Jackler v. Matthew Byrne et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 10-0859, found that “the First Amendment protects the rights of a citizen to refuse to retract a report to the police that he believes is true, to refuse to make a statement that he believes is false, and to refuse to engage in unlawful conduct by filing a false report with the police.”

However, in the present case the court held that the matters criticized by Matthews could not have been criticized by anyone in the capacity and role of a general citizen. Though the criticized matters and practices are of public concern, they are not open to criticism by someone acting in the capacity of a citizen. Therefore Matthews acted in his capacity of a NYPD officer and not as an ordinary citizen and did not merit the protection of the First Amendment in the instant case.

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The case is Craig Matthews v. The City of New York, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, no. 12-1354.


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