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June 18, 2010

Concerning the so-called “Blue Wall of Silence”

Concerning the so-called “Blue Wall of Silence”
Diesel v Town of Lewisboro, CA2, 232 F.3d 92

While some might allege that there is a "blue wall of silence"* encouraged by certain individuals involved in law enforcement, rarely does one find a court decision that specifically addresses the concept.

Not so in the Diesel case. Here a New York State Trooper complained that his civil rights were violated when fellow Troopers failed to accord him a "blue wall of silence."

New York State Trooper Dennis Diesel, sued other members of the New York Division of State Police. Diesel claimed that he had cooperated with an internal affairs investigation involving alleged misconduct by other State Police officers. He alleged that in a subsequent, unrelated incident, -- he was found early one morning passed out or asleep behind the wheel of an official car -- he suffered retaliation as a result of his having cooperated in the internal affairs investigation by being subjected to:

1. An "excessive, prolonged and overzealous investigation" of the incident;

2. The failure of the investigating officers to extend to him a form of "professional courtesy" he terms the "blue wall of silence"; and

3. The officers involved in investigating the incident violating his rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and New York state law.

Addressing the "blue wall of silence" issue, the Circuit Court said:

1. A selective enforcement claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment cannot rest on the allegation that police officers refused to close their eyes to another officer's serious misconduct in accordance with the tradition of the "blue wall of silence";

2. The investigation into Diesel's misconduct was reasonable as a matter of law both in its initiation and scope; and

3. Diesel failed to prove that he was subjected to retaliatory harassment where the alleged retaliation was a reasonable response to Diesel's own culpable conduct.

Accordingly, the court held that Diesel was not, as a matter of law, entitled to any damages and reverse that portion of the district court's judgment in favor of Diesel.

* The phrase "Blue Wall of Silence" has been popularly used to characterized the alleged unity exhibited by law enforcement personnel to limit or minimize their co-operation in an investigation where the target of the investigation is a police or other law enforcement official.

NEW YORK PUBLIC PERSONNEL LAW ELECTRONIC HANDBOOKS

The Discipline Book - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public officers and employees in New York State. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - Determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html

Disability Benefits for fire, police and other public sector personnel - Addresses retirement for disability under the NYS Employees' Retirement System, the NYS Teachers' Retirement System, General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and similar statutes providing benefits to employees injured both "on-the-job" and "off-the-job." For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual -Focusing on relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

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Text prepared by Harvey Randall except as otherwise noted. Randall, former Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service, also served as Director of Personnel for the State University System; as Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and as Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. He has an MPA from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University and a J.D. from Albany Law School.