Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
Village of Woodmere and Mayor Yolanda Broadie settle First Amendment retaliation case with Chief...
April 21, 2009
Monday, May 22, 2023
East Liverpool, OH – Today, former East Liverpool, Ohio police officer Christopher Green, who blew the whistle to the FBI alleging criminal misconduct in that city’s police department, fought back against the City’s effort to hide from public view his First Amendment–retaliation lawsuit’s allegations about police corruption and misconduct.
On May 8, 2023, the city filed a motion asking the federal court to strike from Green’s March 8, 2023 amended civil-rights complaint—and seal from public view—certain allegations of police misconduct. Specifically, the city sought to hide these allegations in the amended complaint:
In the brief opposing the City’s efforts to seal these allegations from public scrutiny, Green’s counsel said,
Far from being “unnecessary, unrelated, and scandalous” (id. at PageID#237), the challenged paragraphs provide necessary and relevant details to support the claims…. If those details are ‘scandalous,’ it’s because of the nature of Defendants’ own conduct…. [T]he allegations about persistent, lawless conduct by City officials include details about the information Green reported to the FBI (which resulted in Green’s termination) and about City officials’ disparate treatment of Green versus other police officers…. [A]ll of this is relevant to his specific legal claims.
Green’s brief urged the federal court to reject the City’s efforts to assist it in a cover up:
This Court should reject the City’s unabashed invitation to become a political and public-relations actor “to protect the integrity of [the city’s police department,” and to fret about irrelevant considerations like the so-called “national and societal backdrop within which former City police officer Christopher Green filed this lawsuit” or “compromis[ing] public confidence in the City’s police department and the court systems serving Columbiana County.” Def.’s Mot., Doc. 23, PageID#237. Federal courts are not municipal press secretaries. If anyone is responsible for compromising public confidence, it’s the City and its employees who engaged in and tolerated the shenanigans detailed in the Amended Complaint. Federal courts do not serve to protect Defendants from allegations—only to adjudicate them.
As the brief argues, federal law provides that plaintiffs are “the masters” of their complaints. “Motions to strike are disfavored and granted only where the challenged allegations have no possible relation or logical connection to the controversy and may cause significant prejudice. The challenged paragraphs are about misconduct Green reported to the FBI and prove the retaliatory motive behind his firing by showing how Green was treated differently than others,” including Tatgenhorst.
As the brief summarizes, the Amended Complaint alleges that in January 2021, after witnessing serial acts of misconduct by his fellow East Liverpool police officers, learning of other misconduct, and reporting these acts to his supervisors—only to see no corrective action—Green reported wrongdoing to the FBI, including the alleged incidents below:
Am. Compl., Doc. 3, PageID#82–83; 94–95 (emphasis added).
Following Green’s reporting of the misconduct to the FBI, the Amended Complaint further alleges, Defendants immediately engaged in a campaign of intimidation and First Amendment retaliation against him—ultimately causing his June 24, 2021 termination.
Following his firing, the Amended Complaint alleges, Defendants—including Captain Chad Tatgenhorst—continued to engage in a campaign of intimidation and First Amendment retaliation against Green. For example, as for Tatgenhorst, it is alleged that
Am. Compl., Doc. 3, PageID#118. Even though Green informed Chief Lane about the texts, Defendant Tatgenhorst wasn’t disciplined for his misbehavior. Id. The Amended Complaint and brief further allege that Defendant Tatgenhorst even continued to engage in further criminal acts, like incidents
(1) in which Tatgenhorst turned off the body cameras of officers investigating his physical abuse of wife and
(2) involving Tatgenhorst threatening his wife.
Am. Compl., Doc. 3, PageID#118–19. Tatgenhorst is presently under indictment for the body-camera incident. Id. Although the charges were later dismissed, Tatgenhorst was arrested and charged for the threat incident. Id. Aside from being placed on paid administrative leave, Defendants took no further discipline against Tatgenhorst and he remains entrusted with the job of East Liverpool Police Department captain. Id. Yet they ejected Officer Green from the department.
Green’s Amended Complaint makes these claims:
The brief describes what the City is asking for—hiding the allegations under seal—as legally “radical”: “It’s one thing to demand that this Court technically strike allegations, which as shown above, it should not because everything alleged in the Amended Complaint is relevant to Plaintiff Green’s claims. But it’s another thing entirely to ask this Court to 'remove from public access' the Amended Complaint and original Complaint’s allegations to the point that third parties can’t even assess the merits of judicial decisions.” Green's brief cites controlling legal precedent holding that “The public has a strong interest in obtaining the information contained in the court record” that “the City didn’t bother to disclose to [the] Court.”
The brief observes, “With Defendants’ rampant misconduct now public, they seek to do what they always have—hide it from public scrutiny, rather than accepting responsibility and holding the wrongdoers accountable. Worse yet, Defendants seek to engage this Court improperly in the business of public-relations management.”
Were the City so concerned about its police department’s reputation for integrity, it should have imposed discipline when the misconduct occurred and imposed preventive measures afterward. It did neither. Instead, its leaders chose not only to do nothing and cover up the misconduct, but to retaliate against the one of the few straight-arrow cops they had.
Subodh Chandra, one of Green's attorneys and himself a former Cleveland law director and federal prosecutor, said of the East Liverpool's motion, "It never fails to amaze me how local governments and politicians think that trying to hide allegations of misconduct from public scrutiny is a smart strategy. All it does is rightly pique curiosity and draw more attention to them. It's called the Streisand Effect." Chandra added, "Our response shows how all of Officer Green's allegations support his legal claims."
Chandra made a public call for assistance, "We ask anyone who has information about the complaint’s allegations or related matters to contact us through EastLiverpoolPoliceMisconduct@ChandraLaw.com."
Subodh Chandra, Donald P. Screen, and Martin Desmond represent former Officer Green in the case entitled Green v. City of East Liverpool, et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Case No. 4:23-cv-00445. The opposition brief to the City’s motion to hide the allegations can be found here. A summary of the Amended Complaint can be found here. The Amended Complaint itself is linked here.
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