12/13/2011Rhode Island Supreme Court Backs Thin Blue Line
Police officer punished for ticketing other officers for speeding loses retaliation lawsuit in Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The "thin blue line" is a metaphor describing how police, dressed in blue, see themselves as standing shoulder-to-shoulder, protecting society from the criminal element. Those on the line believe they are brothers who must never turn in one of their own for misdeeds. This protection disappears when an officer violates this unwritten code, an arrangement confirmed Friday by the Rhode Island Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of a police department that punished a police officer who issued speeding tickets to members of the law enforcement family.
Former Portsmouth, Rhode Island police officer Jerry F. Ims gave no preferential treatment to officers he caught breaking the law by speeding, driving drunk and smoking marijuana. Ims asserted that Chief Dennis Seale and then Lieutenant Manuel Vierra got back at Ims during a November 26, 2001 training exercise. Officer William Burns suffered a slight cut to his head and filed assault charges against Ims, but a grand jury declined to indict Ims, who had just issued a speeding ticket to Officer Stephen Burns, the alleged victim's brother. Despite being cleared, Vierra opened another investigation, suspending Ims. Chief Seale said Ims had to undergo a psychological examination if he wanted his job back. A Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) hearing board sided with Ims, clearing him on August 12, 2002.
Ims filed malicious prosecution charges against Seale and Vierra, but the lower courts rejected this because Ims was never formally charged with a crime. The high court agreed with this reading of the law.
"Although plaintiff argues that the trial justice erroneously excluded evidence about his lost opportunity to earn overtime pay and compensation for police details based on a discovery violation, we are not satisfied that these speculative losses amount to a seizure of plaintiff's property or qualify as the type of special injury sufficient to establish the tort of malicious prosecution," Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg wrote for the court. "The evidence submitted by plaintiff in no way established that Chief Seale or Lieutenant Vierra acted improperly or tortiously in this case. We conclude that the trial justice properly granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of defendants on the claim of tortious interference with contractual relations."
The justices went further and found that although Seale and Vierra were immune from suit, Ims was not. This opened the possibility that Seale and Vierra could countersue Ims for defamation based on the claims he made in court.
A copy of the decision is available in a 210k PDF file at the source link below.