Free Speech Press Release

01.15.04

ACLU of Settles First Amendment Lawsuit Against the City of Cleveland

Black Officers Disciplined for Speaking to Media About Unfair Personnel Policies

CLEVELAND—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation announced that it settled a First Amendment lawsuit against the City of Cleveland. The settlement became final late Wednesday afternoon.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2003 on behalf of three African-American Cleveland police officers and the African American Supervisors Association. In its lawsuit, the ACLU of Ohio claimed that the City of Cleveland violated the free speech rights of the officers when the officers were disciplined for speaking to the media about the way deployment decisions are made within the police department. The officers maintained that the department worked outside the civil service system to bypass supervisor-level African-American officers. The result, they claimed, was very few black officers being appointed to prestigious or important positions.

After calling attention to the problem through various media outlets, the officers were disciplined and informed that they violated Cleveland Police Department regulations. They were also instructed to not conduct any further interviews with the media without first obtaining permission from the department.

As a result of the settlement, the City rescinded disciplinary letters that were given to the officers. The City also agreed that the officers were free to speak to the media without prior permission from the department & that a policy would be drafted to govern officers’ communications with the media, consistent with their First Amendment rights.

“We’re glad the City recognized the need to draft a policy regarding officers’ communications with the press that respects their First Amendment rights,” said Jessie Hill, ACLU of Ohio volunteer attorney. “This settlement is a complete victory for these officers & the notion that government employees do not have to choose between job security and their right to free speech,” added Hill.