A police officer who maintains he was forced to resign for taking part in an inquiry into a superior’s alleged wrongdoing has stated a claim for a violation of his right to free speech, a federal judge held.
In a written opinion this week, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey did not rule on the merits of Anthony Miller’s First Amendment claim against Ryan Block and Adam Davenport.
Block is the village president and Davenport is the chief of police of Kirkland, a town in DeKalb County about 70 miles northwest of Chicago.
But Blakey held Miller plausibly alleged he was a target of retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.
Miller also plausibly alleged he was speaking as a private citizen on a matter to public concern when he exercised those rights, Blakey held.
Miller was a Kirkland police officer from June 2005 until January 2018.
In November 2017, village officials began investigating allegations that Davenport had inappropriate sexual contact with a female police officer, Miller alleges.
He contends he reported incriminating information to investigators as part of the inquiry.
He also provided investigators with information that corroborated other evidence concerning Davenport’s actions, Miller contends.
He says he was ordered to attend a meeting with Block, Davenport and an attorney in January 2018.
The attorney accused him of misconduct and questioned him about those purported incidents, Miller alleges.
And although he denied the allegations of misconduct, he alleges, he was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
He resigned because he feared he would not be able to get a job in law enforcement if he was fired, Miller alleges.
Miller also alleges he had run into problems with Block before the investigation.
In November 2012, he arrested Block for driving under the influence of alcohol, Miller says.
Block later pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to court supervision.
After Block became village president in May 2017, Miller contends, he retaliated against him for the arrest by passing him over for the position of police chief.
Block also blocked his promotion to sergeant, Miller alleges.
Miller filed his suit in January 2019. He filed his second amended complaint in June 2019.
The second amended complaint includes the First Amendment retaliation claim against Block and Davenport.
The complaint also includes a count accusing the village of violating Illinois law by discharging Miller in retaliation for arresting Block.
In his opinion Tuesday, Blakey wrote plaintiffs must state a claim for retaliatory discharge under Illinois law by alleging they were fired in retaliation for their activities.
Plaintiffs also must allege that “the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy,” Blakey wrote, quoting Turner v. Memorial Medical Center, 911 N.E.2d 369 (Ill. 2009).
Miller has met those requirements, Blakey wrote, with the allegation that arresting Block ultimately led to Miller’s constructive discharge and that the discharge ran afoul of a public policy supporting the exposure of crime.
Blakey held Miller also adequately alleged his First Amendment retaliation claim.
Blakey acknowledged public employees are protected from retaliation only if their speech concerns “a matter of public concern” and is made “as a private citizen.”
Miller did not have a specific role in the inquiry, Blakey wrote, and so was acting as a concerned citizen rather than a public employee when he spoke to investigators about Davenport’s alleged wrongdoing.
Also, Miller’s speech concerned a matter of public concern, Blakey continued.
“Speech addresses a matter of public concern,” he wrote, “if the speech can fairly be said to relate to a matter of political, social or other concern to the community.”
And “police misconduct is certainly a matter of public concern,” Blakey wrote, quoting Gonzalez v. City of Chicago, 239 F.3d 939 (7th Cir. 2001).
The case is Anthony Miller v. Village of Kirkland, et al., No. 19 C 50004.
Miller is represented by Daniel J. McGrail of Rockford.
“We are obviously pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to the trial,” McGrail said in an email.
“We are confident that Mr. Miller will prevail on both the federal and state claims when all of the facts are presented to a jury.”
The defendants are represented by K. Austin Zimmer and Timothy A.M. Woerner, both of Del Galdo Law Group LLC in Berwyn.
Neither Zimmer nor Woerner could be reached for comment.