WASHINGTON — A federal jury has awarded $2 to a District of Columbia police detective who was disciplined after being quoted in a newspaper article making comments critical of a police department initiative.
William Hawkins alleged that he was unfairly retaliated against for suggesting in a 2009 Washington Post article that detectives shouldn’t have to be pulled off their cases to participate in the department’s “All Hands on Deck” program. That effort, part of a crime-prevention strategy advocated by Police Chief Cathy Lanier, requires all available officers to report for patrol duty on a designated weekend.
“There are burglaries and serious assaults and armed robberies that are set aside because of AHOD. Detectives should be exempt because it jeopardizes cases,” Hawkins was quoted as telling a reporter. He had also sent an email to a homeowner telling her he wouldn’t be able to immediately work on her burglary case because of scheduling complications caused by the “All Hands on Deck” program.
After the article appeared, the detective was reprimanded — a dereliction notice was placed in the file — for speaking publicly about police department policies without prior approval. He challenged the reprimand in court, and a judge ruled that it violated Hawkins’s First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg told jurors that, if they believed he was harmed but didn’t suffer any monetary damages, they could award him $1 in nominal damages. The jury on Friday awarded Hawkins $1 for his claim of emotional distress and $1 for his claim of reputational damage, said his lawyer, Anthony Conti.
Conti said Tuesday that his client was pleased with the jury’s decision, despite the minuscule monetary award.
“This case wasn’t about money. It was always about principle,” Conti said.
A spokesman for the D.C. attorney general’s office, which represents the city in lawsuits, had no immediate comment.
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