Officer's statement not protected by First Amendment

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A divided Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled the New Albany Police Department had the right to discipline an officer whose racially charged comments made to fellow officers were leaked to the press and made public.

In Jack Messer v. New Albany Police Department, No. 22A05-1104-MI-179, the COA affirmed a judgment by Floyd Superior Judge Roger Duvall granting summary judgment for the New Albany Police Department.

The case involves the suspension of longtime officer Jack Messer, who made a controversial comment to fellow officers after an internal roll call meeting in January 2010. He said, “The biggest mistake that government made was giving those people civil rights.” After saying he didn’t mean what he had said, a complaint was not filed and his supervising officer didn’t believe a violation had occurred. But several days later, the comment was leaked to the press.

An internal police department investigation cleared Messer of wrongdoing, but a police merit commission complaint found the statement caused offense to the members of the community, raised suspicion of racism within the department, and was considered conduct unbecoming of an officer. The commission suspended him for 30 days, and on judicial review Duvall granted the department’s summary judgment motion.

Messer argued on appeal that his statement was protected by the First Amendment and the department should not have subjected him to discipline for making it. The parties agreed the First Amendment question was before the appellate court and is governed by Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 566 (1968), which held the First Amendment protected a public school teacher who wrote a letter to a newspaper in which he criticized the allocation of school funds and the manner by which the school board raised such funds. The court didn’t establish a general constitutional standard applicable to all government-employee-speech cases, but created a two-step test and held the government’s interest as employer must be balanced on a case-by-case basis against the individual and societal First Amendment interests.

Judges Melissa May and Edward Najam found that the department deserved special preference under the Pickering analysis because, like a previous case of City of Indianapolis v. Heath, 686 N.E.2d 940 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), the officer’s speech caused a disruption and the comment wasn’t made as a private citizen. The value of the speech was also low, according to the court majority, because it wasn’t made as a part of government speech.

Judge John Baker disagreed in a separate opinion that said he would have reversed the trial judge’s summary judgment grant for the police department. He determined the statement was made in private and Messer had no reason to expect it would become public and “disrupt” the department, and because of that this case is distinguishable from Heath. The statement was protected by the First Amendment, Baker wrote.



  • anti-white speech cases
    So a political opinion about civil rights is not protected speech? The article doesnt say but we all know that the officer was white. Only whites tend to get their speech characterized as "racially charged" whatever that means. if a nonwhite person says something white people dont like, that would be protected speech for sure. Basically the courts are now implementing antiwhite laws in spite of race supposedly not being a legit factor in state action. Sure, unless its the judiciary taking it into consideration! Some first amendment cases boggle my mind. The ones that disallow nativities but never seem to involve the frequent conspicuous candle lightings of other sectarian faiths. Or how porn is protected speech but political speech is not. Totally backwards misapplication of the first amendment without any regard for framer's intent. Some first amendment! Only protects speech that the powerful approve of in advance. Maybe I shouldnt even say this or somebody will be pushing out a subpoena to see if they can get me fired, too. THOUGHTCRIME!

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.