The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal court ruling for the city of Lawrenceburg in its firing of a criminally charged police officer, who claimed his termination implicated his First Amendment rights because it came after he complained about the mayor and purported wrongdoing by city officials.
The panel affirmed summary judgment for Lawrenceburg in Doug Taylor v. City of Lawrenceburg, et al., 17-2803. Doug Taylor had been a police officer before running for Lawrenceburg City Council in 2011. In April of that year, he improperly appeared in police uniform at a campaign event while reporting on his police department time sheet that he was on duty during the event.
Indiana State Police investigated and in October 2011 filed criminal charges of ghost employment and official misconduct against Taylor, who nevertheless was elected the following month. He was placed on administrative leave with pay after the charges were filed, then later reassigned to a desk position. He ultimately took a deferred prosecution agreement in 2013 in which he admitted to the charged offenses and agreed to resign from the city council.
“The next day, he distributed to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies an eleven-page letter accusing the (Board of Public Works and Safety of the City of Lawrenceburg) and various City officials, including Mayor Dennis Carr, of corruption and criminal wrongdoing,” wrote Judge John Z. Lee of the Northern District of Illinois, sitting on the panel by designation. “A week later, the Board notified Taylor of its intent to terminate his employment as a police officer (as well as with ‘any other department of the City’) and informed him of his right to a hearing pursuant to Indiana Code § 36-8-3-4(c).”
Before Taylor’s hearing, the Board of Public Works and Safety passed a rule stating its decision would be determined by a majority of members present on the five-member panel, which included the mayor, who only votes in the event of a tie. The board voted 2-1 to fire Taylor, with one member abstaining.
The 7th Circuit ruled the Southern District Court in New Albany properly granted summary judgment to the city, rejecting Taylor’s First Amendment and defamation claims.
“Taylor litigated these issues before the Board, and the Board found against him. In its findings, the Board stated that there was no causal connection between its decision and Taylor’s letter, but rather that the proceedings were ‘causally related to the resolution or disposition of judicial proceedings … . Specifically, … [Taylor] was subject to criminal charges prior to the execution of the deferred prosecution agreement, such that disciplinary proceedings could not commence until after the execution of the agreement. The Board finds that until [Taylor] admitted the elements of his criminal activity in the context of a judicial proceeding, any prior admission by [him] was entitled to less weight,’” Lee wrote. “Moreover, as to Taylor’s clashes with Mayor Carr, the Board also rejected his argument that the Board members were improperly biased or prejudiced against him.”
The panel found that Taylor had waived his defamation claim, but even if he hadn’t, “it is difficult to see how the Board’s findings regarding the testimony by the state prosecutor that he would not rely on Taylor in the future could possibly constitute defamation.”