He didn’t like what she said. Whether it was her twits, her video or just the fact that Leigh Maibes protested isn’t clear. But St. Louis police officer Keith Novara decided that it was his official duty to make sure her employer knew of his displeasure.
From St. Louis Today:
A woman who criticized police on Twitter says an officer called her boss in an attempt to get her fired, so she filed a formal complaint “to return the favor.”
The officer doesn’t deny placing a call to the woman’s boss. His union says he was within his rights.
When Maibes called Novara back after she learned of his call to her boss, she recorded the conversation in which he attempted to justify himself.
Novara is heard saying, “I let them know, yes.”
Novara says that he was giving the broker a “heads up” and communicating with him as part of his responsibilities as a South Patrol officer. Novara adds that he was warning Maibes’ boss that the phones at the business might be “blowing up,” from people upset about her tweets.
“Why did you think it was your place to do that?” Maibes asks.
“Some of the tweets that I was seeing were inciteful,” Novara said. “That’s why I just wanted to let him know.”
This is the sort of explanation, seemingly benign excuses, that almost feels as if it ought to make sense. After all, what’s wrong with transparency? If Maibes did, said and wrote what she did, what is the harm in her boss being told of it? She did it, right?
And on the flip side, what’s so wrong about Keith Novara exercising his right to free speech, just as we applaud with so many others, and as we argue is the right of people despite hurt feelings resulting from it?
The [police] association’s business manager, Jeff Roorda, claimed in a statement Thursday that Novara’s speech was protected under the First Amendment and that he was only “setting the record straight on public statements made by people spreading irresponsible lies and calling for violence against the police.”
Had some yokel named Keith called up Maibes’ employer to air his gripes with her twits or conduct, it would have been obnoxious, but protected. Wearing a badge doesn’t forfeit the free speech of the person. But that’s not how the call came. Rather, it came from Police Officer Keith Novara, and the speech of a person who presents himself in his official governmental capacity is no longer the individual’s free speech, but the official person’s speech. And the latter is not free.
In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court distinguished the speech of a person as a private individual from the speech of the same person as an official representative of government. When speaking in his official capacity, speech is constrained by the limits and requirements of the public employer.
As the Court’s decisions have noted, for many years “the unchallenged dogma was that a public employee had no right to object to conditions placed upon the terms of employment—including those which restricted the exercise of constitutional rights.” Connick, 461 U. S., at 143. That dogma has been qualified in important respects. See id., at 144-145. The Court has made clear that public employees do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment. Rather, the First Amendment protects a public employee’s right, in certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen addressing matters of public concern. See, e. g., Pickering, supra, at 568; Connick, supra, at 147; Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U. S. 378, 384 (1987); United States v. Treasury Employees, 513 U. S. 454, 466 (1995).
When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom. . . . Public employees, moreover, often occupy trusted positions in society. When they speak out, they can express views that contravene governmental policies or impair the proper performance of governmental functions.
Novara’s “exercise” of free speech, behind his official capacity as a police officer, was clearly intended as intimidation. The veiled threat of some amorphous concern, or harm, befalling Maibes’ employer because of her protest speech is flagrant, despite the cop’s attempt to couch his motives in the language of beloved transparency and well-intended concern for the welfare of the employer. Or to put it differently, the attempt to excuse it was total malarkey.
So too was the union’s spin that this was just a cop exercising his rights as a good American.
The question for many is why is this attempt at intimidation in return for Maibes’ exercise of her right to free speech and free association any different than any other intimidation for speech that others find annoying or outrageous. The answer is that it wouldn’t be, but for the fact that Novara called as a police officer rather than a regular guy.
Had he not identified himself as a cop, the call would have been protected speech. While Maibe is entitled to her exercise of free speech, so too is Novara in his private capacity. Sure, paying Maibe back for her antagonism toward the police, the shooting of Michael Brown, the handling of protests, and any other matters that disturbed her, might seem wrong given that so many support the protesters in Ferguson.
But which side you take doesn’t define or limit free speech. Even if private citizen Keith was just some badge-licking sycophant, so what? He’s allowed to be, just as Maibe’s allowed to be disgusted by the killing of Michael Brown.
Officer Novara, on the other hand, has no such right. When a cop exercises the power of his position, seeks to use his shield to gain submission, it bears no connection to a private citizen’s exercise of free speech, and he takes no solace in the right he possesses had he acted in his personal capacity.
Put on the cop hat and bear the consequences. Whether it’s the latitude they’re given to shoot, or demand submission to their will, there is a price to pay. The bill just came due for Officer Novara. That said, it’s unlikely that the investigation into his conduct will come at as high a price as he tried to make Maibe pay.
H/T Mike Paar