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ACLU Sues Johnston Police Department for Violating First Amendment Rights of Former Detective

Posted: October 11, 2017|Category: Active Case Fair Administration of Justice Free Speech Open Government Police Practices Workplace Rights

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today sued the Johnston Police Department on behalf of retired Detective James Brady, an 18-year veteran of the force, for violating his First Amendment rights. In his role as union president of Local #307 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO), Brady spoke to news media about a matter of public concern and was subsequently disciplined by the Department.  The suit filed today argues that Johnston Police Chief Richard Tamburini violated Brady’s free speech rights by suspending him without pay for two days for his comments, and that the policies under which Brady was disciplined are unconstitutionally vague.

In September 2016, as union president, James Brady spoke to the Providence Journal about police officer and union member Adam Catamero, who had been terminated from the Johnston Police force. The article sought to shed light on the circumstances of Catamero’s termination, and suggested that, although he was ostensibly fired for behavioral reasons, police department politics might have been at play.  In his interview with the Journal, Brady “expressed disappointment” over Catamero’s firing, stating that he was a “straightforward, all-business kind of guy,” and that high-ranking officers “didn’t like the way [Catamero] did things.”

Several days after the Journal ran the article, Police Chief Tamburini launched an internal affairs investigation of Brady and charged him with violating multiple department policies regarding “dissemination of information” and “conduct unbecoming an officer.” Brady was further advised that he brought the “Department into disrepute” and impaired “operation and efficiency of the Department.” He was given a two-day unpaid suspension.

The suit, filed today in U.S. District Court by ACLU of RI cooperating attorney John W. Dineen, seeks a court order invalidating, as a violation of the First Amendment, the policies under which Brady was disciplined; damages for his lost pay; and an award of attorneys’ fees. 

Plaintiff Brady said today: “As the union president, I had an obligation to represent my membership 100%. In the past, many presidents have been sued for lack of representation. I took my responsibility very seriously, and I paid the price for doing so. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change one thing. Catamero may have been terminated from the Johnston Police Department, but he was still a dues paying member of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, and therefore I still represented him.”

Attorney John W. Dineen added: “This is a good case for this time because the First Amendment is not some annoying relic from James Madison's time. In 2017, freedom of speech and a free press are vital to surviving some serious bumps in the road as a society.”

“Let’s be clear. Brady was disciplined because he publicly defended Catamero, and the Department didn’t like it,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director. “That the Department saw fit to sanction him for speaking as the president of his union, about a matter of important public interest, is deeply troubling, and according to our lawsuit, unconstitutional.”

The full text of the lawsuit, Brady v. Tamburini, is available here.

A copy of the suspension letter issued to Brady can be found here.

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