Let’s say you’re a law enforcement officer responding to a call with a colleague. You watch your fellow police officer use excessive force on someone who wasn’t being violent or presenting any threat. What do you do next?
In many career fields, the answer is a no-brainer. Report it to a supervisor so that your colleague faces the appropriate disciplinary actions. But for law enforcement agencies, things are much more complicated.
Acting as a whistleblower as a police officer can have negative consequences, including harassment and retaliation. In some instances, officers lose their jobs for intervening. An officer with the Buffalo Police Department was fired and denied a pension after stopping another officer from placing a suspect in a chokehold.
Even if a police officer is fired for bad behavior, there’s nothing stopping him or her from being reinstated by another law enforcement agency — a protection that isn’t afforded to whistleblowers who bravely come forward, often in hopes of seeing the system change for the better.
It’s easy to encourage officers to do the right thing and report wrongdoing, but the so-called “blue wall of silence” is hard to break. Police the Truth, founded by attorneys Sara Wyn Kane, James A. Vagnini, Larry F. Taylor, Jr., and Robert J. Valli, Jr., is a new non-profit organization that offers potential whistleblowers pro-bono and subsidized counsel, allowing them legal support if they choose to report misconduct.
This initiative helps law enforcement officers explore the potential repercussions of coming forward. Our team believes you shouldn’t fear punishment for making the courageous decision to speak against systemic issues in law enforcement. Our hope is that every officer will one day be able to reveal injustice without being afraid they’ll lose their jobs in the process.
The issue is more disturbing than police officers simply choosing not to act as whistleblowers. In some cases, police officers feel pressured to lie under oath. As explored in a recent edition of the UC Davis Law Review, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was killed by Chicago police officers in 2014. It wasn’t until a court ordered the police department to release dashboard camera footage of the incident that the public learned McDonald was walking away from officers when he was shot, proving that officers at the scene who said he presented a threat weren’t being fully honest.
One police officer was found guilty of second-degree murder; three others were charged with conspiracy, official misconduct, and obstruction of justice and later acquitted. One of the officers implicated had his charges expunged from public record in late 2019, which conceivably allows him to be re-hired by another law enforcement agency.
The goal of Police the Truth is to help police officers across the U.S. feel equipped to act ethically and report impropriety instead of being pressured into silence or lying. We can’t achieve our mission without your help. If you’re an attorney who wants to volunteer your time to assist us or a police officer seeking legal advice about a workplace complaint, reach out to us today.
Larry oversees the firm’s Mass Torts, Criminal, Employment and Civil Rights practice areas as well as leads our community involvement efforts. While Larry is active daily in Mass Tort litigation he continues to play a role in client communications, and those cases that involve everyday folks. He is an active coach in youth sports and sits on a number of diverse community stakeholder entities. Between growing up in Duval County Florida and Harris County Texas (3rd Ward, Acers Homes, Greenspoint) and raising his kids in rural Texas, Larry has gained an appreciation for those who struggle for a sense of fairness. From the client in Urban America seeking to be heard to the small town Rural American wanting fairness, it all resonates with Larry's need and desire to fight for them.