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Greenfield police officer loses suit over discipline for profane texts

November 2, 2016

A Greenfield police officer has lost his federal lawsuit filed against the city after he was suspended for allegedly sending profane text messages that insulted and threatened his superior officers.

Patrolman Corey Decker sued after he was suspended for three days without pay for text messages he sent that were discovered in a 2014 Indiana State Police investigation of then-Greenfield Lt. Terry Austin for allegations of official misconduct. Austin was convicted of Class C felony bribery and Class D felony official misconduct.

As part of its investigation, state police downloaded and documented more than 71,000 text messages from Austin’s phone, about 80 of which were from Decker. Investigators who were alarmed by some of Decker’s texts forwarded them to Police Greenfield Police Chief John Jester. Decker was suspended for “several disturbing text messages,” Jester told him in a memo, according to the suit.

“Several of those messages would be considered threats of physical violence to members of the Command Staff of the police department. There was also a text message that stated you would be actively trying to get into a crash in order to get a day off, like” one of Decker’s superiors, according to Chief Judge Richard Young’s order granting summary Monday.

Decker claimed his First Amendment free speech rights were violated when he was suspended for three days without pay for a text that described a supervisor as a “b---- a--,” and another that threatened to punch one supervisor in the mouth and kick another in the belly.

Decker was one of four Greenfield officers Jester suspended briefly stemming from the Austin investigation, according to the record, but none of the other officers sued the department.

Decker’s text messages that resulted in discipline and others are detailed in Young’s order granting summary judgment to the Greenfield defendants, which also resulted in final judgment against Decker on his First Amendment claims.

Young rejected Decker’s arguments that his speech was protected because on the whole it highlighted mismanagement of the department and questioned the adequacy of administrators as public officials.

“Plaintiff’s test messages were not meant to bring wrongdoing to light or to raise issues of public importance such as a breach of the public trust,” Young wrote in ruling for the city in Corey Decker v. City of Greenfield, et al., 1:15-cv-00586. “Instead, the point of Plaintiff’s speech was to express his personal displeasure and frustration with the GPD administration and his personal hope for change.

“Based on the content of Plaintiff’s speech and the context within which he spoke, the court finds, as a matter of law, that his speech did not address matters of public concern. Therefore, Plaintiff’s speech is not protected by the First Amendment.”
 

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