GREENFIELD — A Greenfield police officer is suing his boss and the city, saying he was wrongfully suspended for three days last year over text messages he sent to a fellow officer while off duty.
Patrolman Corey Decker said he “experienced harm, discomfort, embarrassment and mental and emotional distress” when he was placed on unpaid leave by Chief John Jester in July 2014, according to a complaint filed in the Indianapolis office of the U.S. Court of Indiana.
Decker served a three-day unpaid suspension after text messages between Decker and a former officer were discovered during a department investigation.
City officials said those messages, one of which expressed a desire to harm a superior officer, violated department policies for officer conduct. But Decker argues the messages were unrelated to the department’s investigation and the suspension violated his constitutional rights.
Now, Decker, a six-year veteran of the department, is seeking compensation for damages and attorney fees that will result from the lawsuit.
“Mr. Decker’s communications were private in nature, sent from his personal cellphone and during a time period when he was off duty,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Decker never gave express or implied authority for the defendants to examine his cellular communications, nor was a search warrant executed any time for Mr. Decker’s cellular records.”
Investigators came across the messages after confiscating the cellphone of former Greenfield police Lt. Terry Austin, who was accused at the time of bribing a fellow officer to pull over his ex-wife and tow her car. A jury convicted Austin of bribery and official misconduct in October 2014.
In going through 71,000 text messages pulled from Austin’s cellphone investigators found messages between Austin and other officers they say violated department policies.
At least two officers were suspended based on conversations they had with Austin.
In September 2014, Decker appealed the suspension to the Greenfield Board of Works and Public Safety because he believed the punishment was unwarranted. In a split decision, the board voted 3-2 to uphold Jester’s recommendation and denied Decker a special hearing to have the suspension overturned.
Decker believes Jester’s actions violated his First Amendment right of freedom of speech, and by denying him a hearing, the Board of Works denied his Fourth Amendment right of due process, the lawsuit states.
These actions placed Decker “in a false light, which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” the lawsuit states.
Decker is being represented by Scott Barnhart of Indianapolis; and the city and Jester are being represented by Bruce Kamplain of Indianapolis. Neither attorney could be reached for comment.
Jester declined to comment on the proceedings.