In a reversal of past decisions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided yesterday that California police officers may be protected by the 1st Amendment when they report corruption and misconduct within their departments, reports the Los Angeles Times. An 11-judge panel revived a lawsuit by Angelo Dahlia, a former Burbank police detective, who said he was punished for telling the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department about alleged brutality in the Burbank Police Department.
The ruling protects police officers who go outside the chain of command to report corruption and may result in compensation for officers who prove that they were punished for their whistle-blowing. Prior court rulings had barred California officers from suing for 1st Amendment retaliation. “It is relevant to the resolution of Dahlia’s case that Dahlia disclosed misconduct to LASD in contravention of the numerous threats and admonitions from his superiors not to reveal the misconduct to anyone,” wrote Judge Richard Paez. “He defied, rather than followed, his supervisors’ orders.” Dahlia alleged that he witnessed other officers physically abuse suspects who were taken into custody during a high-profile robbery probe that began in 2007. He said he saw a lieutenant grab a suspect by the throat, put a gun under his eye and threaten him.