GREENFIELD – A federal judge has ruled against a Greenfield police officer who sued the city over his three-day suspension for sending vulgar and violent text messages, court records state.
Patrolman Corey Decker filed the lawsuit against, which also named Police Chief John Jester and Lt. Randy Ratliff, head of the department’s investigation’s unit, last year after he was disciplined over texts he sent to a fellow officer.
This week, a judge ruled that suit was without merit.
Decker’s texts might never have been discovered had it not been for an investigation into one of his colleagues. Then-Lt. Terry Austin was accused in 2014 of trying to bribe fellow officers to pull over his ex-wife and tow her car. During that investigation, detectives downloaded some 71,000 text messages from Austin’s phone. Austin would later be convicted of bribery and misconduct and fired from his post.
Two texts Decker sent to Austin were among those read by detectives during the investigation: in one, Decker suggested he’d been trying to cause an accident in his squad car in order to get a day off duty; in another, he said he wanted to punch one of his supervisors in the mouth and kick another in the belly, court documents state.
Additional text messages were critical of GPD administrators, with one stating, “I can’t stand them and their lack of leadership,” the complaint states.
Decker, who filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana last year, argued his boss had violated his rights to freedom of speech by disciplining him for the texts.
Judge Richard Young disagreed, noting, “threats of this sort do not merit constitutional protection,” and that Decker’s texts “were not meant to bring wrongdoing to light or to raise issues of public importance such as a breach of the public trust. Instead, the point of Plaintiff’s speech was to express his personal displeasure and frustration with the GPD administration.”
Decker, who remains employed with the police department, was one of four officers who received brief suspensions without pay based on the content of text messages found on Austin’s cellphone; Decker was the only officer who sued the department following the sanction.
Jester, who has since retired and taken a security position with Community Health Network, said he was relieved the judge sided with the department’s handling of the issue.
Jester said the decision to Decker was not personal nor related to his criticism of his superiors.
“That absolutely was not the case,” Jester said.
Jester said in a large department (GPD employs 42 officers), it’s not unusual for some to be critical of those in leadership positions, and he did not take issue with those particular texts, which he considered an upset employee just venting.
“I think that is a normal part of any employer/employee relationship,” he said.
Decker could not be reached for comment.