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January 31, 2011

Constitutionally protected speech

Constitutionally protected speech
Bradley v. James USCA, 8th Circuit, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 4781

In the course of an official investigation of an incident involving students in possession of firearms, Arch Bradley, a police captain, alleged that his chief of police chief, Larry James, was intoxicated while on duty at the time of the incident. As a result, Bradley was terminated from his position.*

Bradley sued, claiming that his speech was protected by the First Amendment and thus his termination was unconstitutional.

The Circuit Court disagreed; holding that Bradley’s statement concerning Chief James’ alleged intoxication was made in the context of his official duties – in the course of an official investigation of a law enforcement incident -- and therefore not constitutionally protected.

The legal issue, said the court, is essentially “did the employee speak as a citizen on a matter of public concern?” If the answer to the question is no, the employee does not have a First Amendment cause of action as a result of his or her employer’s taking adverse personnel action against the employee because of the speech.

Here, said the court, Bradley’s speech was made “pursuant to [his] official responsibilities.” As a police officer, Bradley had an official responsibility to cooperate with the investigation incident. His allegation that Chief James was intoxicated when the student incident occurred was made at no other time than during the subsequent investigation of that event. Thus, ruled the Circuit Court, Bradley’s speech was uttered in the course of his performing his official and professional duties. Accordingly, it was not constitutionally protected speech for the purposes of his First Amendment claim.

The Circuit Court affirmed the federal district court’s dismissal of Bradley’s complaint.

For the full text of the decision, go to:

* Bradley was sent a letter that included the following statements: “Your inaction on February 6th and your unsubstantiated comments about Chief James are both terminable offenses.” The letter offered Bradley the opportunity to retire or be terminated. Bradley did not respond. Bradley was then sent a letter dismissing him from his position for “deliberate or gross neglect of duty” during the incident. Bradley’s allegation that Chief James was intoxicated at the time of the incident was not mentioned in the letter.

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