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Hawkins v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 11, 2013

William HAWKINS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

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Anthony Michael Conti, Daniel J. McCartin, Conti Fenn & Lawrence LLC, Baltimore, MD, for Plaintiffs.

Juliane T. Demarco, Office of the Attorney General, District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

After he criticized a new crime-prevention strategy in the Washington Post, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department disciplined Detective William Hawkins for talking to the media without authorization. Hawkins and his union, the Fraternal Order of Police, sued. In the wake of a previous motion to dismiss, all that remains of the suit is Plaintiffs' claim against the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, asserting that Hawkins's discipline and MPD's media policy violate the First Amendment. The parties have now cross-moved for summary judgment, and each wins a round. Concluding that Hawkins's discipline violated the First Amendment, but that the media policy passes constitutional muster, the Court will grant both Motions in part and deny both in part.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Although the Court laid out the Complaint's allegations in a previous Opinion, see Hawkins v. Boone (Hawkins I ), 786 F.Supp.2d 328 (D.D.C.2011), the analysis here begins anew, as summary judgment requires evidence, not just allegations. Yet, in looking at the evidence, the Court finds that the material facts at issue are essentially undisputed.

1. General Order

The Metropolitan Police Department regulates its members' ( i.e., employees') disclosures of information to the media through General Order 204.01. See Gov't Mot., Exh. F (MPD, Gen. Order 204.01, Media (Apr. 13, 2001)). The General Order strikes a balance between the public's right to certain information about police activity and MPD's needs for accuracy in public communications and for, in some instances, secrecy about police work. See id. at pt. I. The Order's key regulations decree who may release information, what categories of information they may release, and under what circumstances. See id. at pt. VI.

Three of those regulations are particularly relevant here. The first two are the regulations that Detective Hawkins was found to have violated:

1. Members may provide the basic facts, unless otherwise restricted by this General Order, concerning an event or incident of which they have sufficient knowledge, in conjunction with a Unit Official's approval, the rank of lieutenant or above.
2. Only the Chief of Police, Command staff and members designated by them may release information pertaining to Department policies, procedures, rules, personnel issues and direction.

Id. at pt. VI.A (citation omitted). The third is the rule for how members may express a personal view:

If a member is participating in an interview to express personal views, the member shall:
a. appear or participate only during non-duty status, unless otherwise directed;
b. ensure that the interview will not be conducted at a police facility

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without [Public Information Office] authorization;
c. preface any comments with a clear statement that he or she is expressing a personal viewpoint and not that of the Department;
d. be prohibited from appearing in uniform or wearing any Department insignia or item which would indicate he or she is the Department's spokesperson; and,
e. not endorse any products or services.

Id. at pt. VI.F.2.

2. Discipline of Hawkins

William Hawkins has worked for MPD since 1990, and he has been a detective since 1998. See Gov't Mot., Exh. A (Dep. of William Hawkins) at 9:4-22. As a detective, Hawkins primarily investigates burglaries and thefts. See id. at 10:6-13. He has been a member of the Fraternal Order of Police (" the Union" ) since 1990 but had minimal involvement with the organization before the events at issue in this case. See id. at 14:10-16:5.

In June 2009, Hawkins was assigned to a burglary at Janice Delaney's Capitol Hill home. See id. at 16:6-9. Delaney e-mailed Hawkins with a partial list of stolen items on Monday, June 22, saying that she was " very anxious to get this investigation underway." Pls. Mot., Exh. 1 (Email from Delaney to Hawkins (June 22, 2009)). On Tuesday, June 23, Hawkins responded as follows:

Unfortunately I will not get to work on your case for quite a while. I'm day off this week Wednesday and Thursday. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I'm being sent to the second district[ ](upper Georgetown) for All Hands On Deck this weekend. I'm day off next Monday the 29th. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in mandatory training class at the police academy. Day off next Friday the 3rd. The 4th Holiday somewhere downtown area not even close to the fireworks. The week after that is another AHOD with Wednesday [the 8th] and Thursday [the 9th] as days off.
Looks like 7/5, 7/6, and 7/7 are free to investigate my crime victim's cases.

Pls. Mot., Exh. 2 (E-mail from Hawkins to Delaney (June 23, 2009)). In other words, Hawkins told Delaney that he would not get to her case for at least twelve days— in large part because of duties stemming from All Hands on Deck. The All Hands on Deck initiative flooded high-crime areas with D.C. police officers and detectives over select weekends in hopes that the additional police presence would deter crime. The initiative had been a significant bone of contention between the Union, which fought All Hands on Deck's additional burden on police officers, and the D.C. Police Chief, who initiated and strongly backed All Hands on Deck.

After receiving Hawkins's e-mail, Delaney complained to Hawkins's supervisor and asked him to " reassign this case to a detective who is free to work on it now." Pls. Mot., Exh. 3 (E-mail from Delaney to Inspector Michael Reese (June 23, 2009)). Fearing disciplinary action, Hawkins reached out to the Chairman of the Union, Kristopher Baumann. See Hawkins Dep. at 72:20-73:19.

Hawkins's e-mail to Delaney soon became public, apparently after Delaney herself forwarded it to the media. See Dep. of Kristopher Baumann at 37:22-38:15; [1] Hawkins Dep. at 55:1-5. When a Washington Post reporter ...


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