In a surprising turn of events, a federal appeals court this week reinstated Police Officer Craig Matthews’ free speech lawsuit over the police department’s quota system that had been dismissed in district court.
Matthews, by the way, was one of the officers who fired the fatal shots in taking down a deranged man who had just murdered a co-worker near the Empire State Building in August.
The decision could pave the way for a series of challenges over quotas by other police officers. While the city has denied the existence of quotas–calling them “performance goals” or “activity”–a number of officers have stepped forward with evidence of their existence.
One of those–Adrian Schoolcraft–was the subject of the Voice’s award-winning series “The NYPD Tapes.” Schoolcraft recorded precinct bosses actually saying what number of arrests, stop and frisks, and summonses per month they expected, along with numerous examples of commanders haranguing patrol officers to write more tickets.
Another officer, Adil Polanco, made similar allegations in the Voice. A police officer in Queens earlier this year testified that quotas led him to plant drugs on innocent people in order to increase his arrest total.
Matthews, a veteran cop in the Bronx’s 42nd Precinct, sued the NYPD for forcing officers to adhere to an “illegal quota system” for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union which is representing him. He asserted that color coded computer reports which were used in the precinct to track the “productivity” of officers proved the existence of this system.
Cops who didn’t make the quota had their names highlighted in red ink, and got worse hours, assignments, were denied overtime and leave, were given bad evaluations and were subjected to harassment and threats. After Matthews complained about the quota system, he alleged his bosses retaliated against him.
He complained repeatedly in 2009 and 2011, reporting to his bosses that quotas “were causing unjustified stops, arrests and summonses because police officers felt forced to abandon their discretion in order to meet their numbers,” and damaging relations with the community.
“Quotas lead to illegal arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisks, and they undermine trust between the police and the community they are supposed to protect,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. “Officer Matthews chose to expose this corruption, and instead of commending him, the Police Department made his life miserable. Today’s win puts us a step closer toward rectifying that wrong and ending this unlawful retaliation.”
Last April, the federal district judge rejected the NYCLU’s assertion that Matthews free speech rights had been violated, and dismissed the case. But the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed.
“Accepting Matthews’ allegations as true, it is undisputed that his speech addressed a matter of public concern,” the court ruled. But there was not even in the record to determine whether Matthews was speaking as a citizen or as part of his official duties.
The court ordered more investigation into that issue in the district court, before a final decision could be made on whether Matthews could pursue the claim that his free speech rights were violated.