Public employees can't be punished for speaking out on matters of public importance, as long as doing so isn’t an official part of their jobs. Until now, it has been an open question whether a police officer’s complaints about police brutality were protected.
Recent case: During an arrest, Angelo, a Burbank police officer, allegedly saw his supervisor point a loaded gun at a suspect already in custody. The supervisor allegedly taunted the suspect. Later, Angelo heard what sounded like a beating occurring behind closed doors.
Angelo complained and was placed on administrative leave. He sued, alleging interference with his free speech rights. The police department argued that Angelo’s job duties required him to speak out; therefore he hadn’t engaged in protected activity.
The court said Angelo had a case anyway (Dahlia v. Rodriguez, et al., No. 10-55978, 9th Cir., 2013)