Facing NYCLU Lawsuit, Town Agrees to Restore Free Speech Rights for Police Officers

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
March 21, 2000 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — Responding to a lawsuit recently filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Town of Wallkill today agreed to rescind its gag order policies preventing its police officers from speaking out about departmental matters.

The settlement came this morning at a hearing with town officials, at which the NYCLU was seeking a court order prohibiting the town from enforcing its unconstitutional policies. But the after town officials informed United States District Court Judge Charles L. Brieant that it would rescind the policies, the NYCLU action was withdrawn.

“Police officers have important rights under the First Amendment, and the government has no power to prohibit them from talking to the press or making critical comments about nonconfidential matters,” said Christopher Dunn, an NYCLU staff attorney involved in the case.

The policies challenged in the lawsuit prohibited Wallkill police officers, even as private citizens or representatives of the local Policemen’s Benevolent Association, from:

  • talking to the media without the permission of the Wallkill Police Department;
  • discussing “sensitive subjects” with the media;
  • making certain public statements “criticizing or ridiculing” the Department;
  • making such statements at public meetings of the Wallkill Police Commission; and
  • making statements about interrogations conducted by the Commission in February of this year.

All of these policies were adopted or reiterated in the midst of an ongoing public controversy arising out of the Police Commission’s efforts to limit the scope and jurisdiction of the Wallkill Police Department.

“For three months we have been gagged and prevented from speaking out about this important controvers,” said Charles Bodensieck, III, the president of the Wallkill PBA. “We now intend to make public our very real concerns about the recent actions of the Wallkill Police Commission.”

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