The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Monday that the firing of a University of Nevada, Reno, police officer for talking to the news media didn’t violate his First Amendment rights.
Officer Victor Garcia told a News 4 reporter he thought officers should be patrolling areas near campus in addition to the campus itself but that his commanding officer, Adam Garcia, discouraged him from doing so.
In response to a question, Garcia also told the reporter he didn’t feel the campus was safe because there were not enough officers on patrol.
Those statements contradicted those of a university police spokesman who told the same reporter patrolling those surrounding neighborhoods was the Reno Police Department’s responsibility.
In addition to granting an interview with the media without first notifying the department, Garcia was accused of discourteous treatment of other police employees, using insulting and abusive language, acting in ways that discredit the department or university, and negligence.
The district court granted summary judgment to the university finding that Garcia’s speech to the reporter was made as an employee and, therefore, not protected. His negative comments to another officer about his boss, the court ruled, were not about a matter of public concern and, therefore, also not protected by the First Amendment.
The high court agreed.
“We conclude that the state’s interest in maintaining the department’s effectiveness in providing campus security outweighs the appellant’s interest in discussing these matters of public concern and that summary judgment (for the university) on this issue was proper.”