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Decorated former Cleveland firefighter challenges city ban on speaking to the media about safety concerns

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

City policies unconstitutionally prohibit firefighters from disclosing to the media public-safety concerns in the Division of Fire. But 20 years ago in another case, the same federal court hearing Sean DeCrane's case held such bans illegal.

Former Cleveland Fire Division Battalion Chief Sean DeCrane has filed a motion to add a constitutional challenge to two City of Cleveland policies in his pending lawsuit against the City.

According to DeCrane’s motion for leave to add claims to his Complaint:

  • The City imposed policies forbidding firefighters from talking to reporters, and from sharing harmful information about their superiors, just months after the McGinnis scandal broke, in further retaliation against DeCrane, and in an effort to prevent firefighters from warning the public about improper decision-making in the Department of Public Safety.
  • One of those policies was imposed by Patrick Kelly, who was promoted to Fire Chief shortly afterwards, over DeCrane.
  • Those policies cause material witnesses to DeCrane’s claims, whom the City still employs, to fear retaliation for providing testimony that might be harmful to their superiors.
  • Over 20 years ago, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio declared unconstitutional a nearly identical policy in another case brought by a veteran firefighter who was brought up on sham charges.

DeCrane’s existing lawsuit alleges that the City of Cleveland retaliated against him because it thought he told a reporter that the City promoted a fire chief who was not properly certified to be a firefighter. That chief was relieved of duties, and retired two weeks later.

According to his Complaint, DeCrane did not inform the press, but he did inform Assistant Safety Director Edward Eckart seven months before the scandal broke. Eckart did not address the problem, but brought DeCrane up on false charges instead to conceal Eckart's responsibility for the promotion, and drove DeCrane from the Division of Fire.

Patrick Kabat, one of DeCrane’s attorneys, said: “Policies like these are dangerous, permitting official retaliation against inconvenient truths, and deterring firefighters from warning the public about issues that might embarrass their superiors. We shouldn’t expect our firefighters to risk what Sean endured to warn us about wrongdoing in the Division of Fire. They risk enough.”

Subodh Chandra and Patrick Haney of The Chandra Law Firm LLC,, also represent DeCrane. The lawsuit is pending in federal court before Judge Christopher A. Boyko of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, and captioned Sean DeCrane v. Edward Eckart et al., No. 1:16-cv-2647.

Related Practice Areas
Employment RetaliationFirst Amendment

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