Officer’s Lawsuit Over Quotas Is Reinstated
By BENJAMIN WEISER
A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a lawsuit filed by a New York City police officer who accused his superiors of violating his First Amendment rights by punishing him for reporting the existence of an illegal arrest-quota system.
The officer, Craig Matthews, a veteran of the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx, had claimed in the lawsuit that he was subjected to a “campaign of retaliation and harassment” after he complained about a “highly developed” system that mandated numerical quotas for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters.
But in April, a federal judge dismissed the suit on the grounds that the officer’s complaints were “made pursuant to his job duties,” and were therefore not constitutionally protected speech.
In a summary order overturning that ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the record had not yet been “sufficiently developed” in the lower court to determine whether Officer Matthews had been speaking “pursuant to his official duties” when he made his complaints.
The appeals court did not rule on the merits of Officer Matthews’s claim, but said that for him to be able to sue for such First Amendment retaliation, he had to have spoken “as a citizen addressing matters of public concern.”
Christopher T. Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Officer Matthews, said the officer “chose to expose this corruption, and instead of commending him, the Police Department made his life miserable.”
“Today’s win puts us a step closer toward rectifying that wrong and ending this unlawful retaliation,” Mr. Dunn said.
Marta Ross, a lawyer with the city’s Law Department, said: “We are disappointed in the court’s decision.”
“We believe that we’ll be successful at the case’s conclusion,” she added. The Law Department said it was also speaking for the Police Department.
Three months ago, city officials praised Officer Matthews for being one of two officers who shot and killed a gunman in front of the Empire State Building.
In his lawsuit, Officer Matthews said that he had complained multiple times to his commanding officers about the quota system, contending that it “was causing unjustified stops, arrests, and summonses because police officers felt forced to abandon their discretion in order to meet their numbers.”