Suppose you overheard someone encouraging someone else on the phone to take a shot at the President of the United States? Suppose you also overheard someone propose putting a bomb under the stage where the President was speaking? And someone making inappropriate comments about the First Lady?
Chances are if you heard comments like this you would tell someone in law enforcement, be it the local police, the FBI the Secret Service or all of the above.
What if you ARE the police? A Virginia police officer found himself in this very position when President Obama was in Richmond for an appearance on May 5th, 2012. Based on the available facts, the officer went “through channels” but the higher ups did nothing for two weeks. Some time after that he spoke anonymously to the local media. At that time, a spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department (RPD) said the Secret Service investigated and concluded there was no crime.
Since then the two police officers alleged to have made these inappropriate comments were fired, and they are trying to get their jobs back.
According to their lawyer James Towey, “(T)he firings were the result of meddling by the mayor’s office.” Towey is calling for a public hearing on the matter. In a letter to Richmond City Attorney Allen Jackson, Towey claims “disturbing facts that shed light on dysfunction within the Richmond City government as well as instances of despicable misconduct by particular city leaders.”
The man said Wednesday morning he returned to police headquarters to pick-up a packet of information. Included in that packet, he said, the reason he was fired.
The reason, he said, was because he violated police department policy by doing an interview with CBS 6 about the a May 5 incident involving the President and the First Lady.
There’s a lot that smells about this story. Some things people say should be taken seriously. Someone plotting to kill the President of the United States falls into that category. If a subsequent investigation concludes there was no wrong doing or any plan for wrong doing, fine. However, this is one of those things that should be looked at immediately – not weeks later. Had immediate action occurred, the whistleblower wouldn’t have needed to express his concerns to the media.
This is classic whistleblowing. If anyone has a legal basis to get their job back, it’s the police officer who spoke to the media.
Since Virginia is an employ at will state, one may be tempted to conclude that whistleblowers can be fired for retaliatory purposes. It’s obvious that his dismissal was not only about his violation of the blue code of silence, but it was also intended to send a message to anyone else who may be tempted to expose wrong doing or negligence by the RPD, which in this case involved an alleged plot to assassinate the president.
The thing is, employees in employ at will states still have rights under the U.S. Constitution.
As Thomas Roberts (an employment attorney who is not involved in the case) points out, this officer’s dismissal was a violation of his First amendment rights. “It concerns me and it should concern others, if he was retaliated based upon his right to express his concern on this public matter as well as his opinion.”
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