Using subpoena power that you think would be reserved for criminal investigations, Newark Police obtained the IP address of four police officers who posted anonymous criticisms against the department on a website that discusses local issues and politics, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
Three officers ended up getting fired and a fourth officer, Louis Wohltman, ended up getting suspended for nine months for his comments, even though he was off-duty when he posted the comments, which alleged corruption and inefficiency within the department.
Now Wohltman is suing the Newark Police Department for violating his First Amendment rights and invading his privacy. And the ACLU is backing him in the federal lawsuit.
No word on whether the department’s internal affairs division is looking into the allegations of corruption. Or if they were the ones leading the investigation against the four officers.
The lawsuit comes at the heels of another lawsuit filed last week against the Newark Police Department for arresting a newspaper editor who refused to turn over photographs, which is a clear First Amendment violation.
It also comes at a time when employers throughout the country are increasingly retaliating against employees for expressing their opinions online.
Just last week in two separate incidents in Florida, two men lost lost their jobs in connection with blogs they maintain. It’s gotten to the point where many bloggers insist on remaining anonymous to post their opinions online, which at this point, is still protected under the First Amendment.
But for how long?
The Newark incident marks one of the first times, if not the first time, that an employer used the power of subpoena to track down an employee who was posting anonymous opinions online.
In a related matter, the Miami Police Department suspended officer Geovani Nunez for expressing opinion to a newspaper columnist about what he thought was an unjust arrest.
Apparently, the federal whistleblower law does not apply to police officers.
It is no wonder why so many officers have trouble respecting the First Amendments rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect.