Ninth Circuit backs Kirkland in demotion of deputy
The Ninth Circuit Court has ruled there was no First Amendment violation in Dick Kirkland’s decision to demote and discipline a former Washoe County sheriff’s sergeant.
John Strahan sued after Kirkland demoted him from sergeant to deputy and reassigned him for several violations of personnel rules, including his associations with at least three ex-convicts.
An investigation of Strahan also found he had operated his private motorcycle for four years without a license and filed false articles of incorporation for a motorcycle club called Blind Justice.
Kirkland pointed to “a pattern of conduct that suggests many deficiencies on your part,” including insubordination, contempt for authority, inability to remember detail and a professed ignorance of the law he was charged with enforcing.
Strahan later resigned from the Washoe Sheriff’s Office.
After the disciplinary decision, he filed a lawsuit in federal district court complaining the real motivation was his association with the Blind Justice motorcycle club. He said the disciplinary actions violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of association.
But the Ninth Circuit opinion agreed Kirkland and his investigator concentrated on Strahan’s association with ex-convicts, which is prohibited in Washoe Sheriff’s Office policies.
U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben ruled there was no evidence to support Strahan’s First Amendment claims and granted a motion dismissing the case.
Strahan appealed, but the opinion issued this past week points out the primary focus of the personnel investigation was on Strahan’s association with convicted felons. It says Strahan didn’t produce evidence to support his claim his discipline was motivated by retaliation for his association with the motorcycle club.
“Indeed, Kirkland was careful to distinguish that association from Strahan’s violations of departmental general orders,” the opinion states.
The appellate court affirmed the district court decision dismissing the lawsuit and upholding the legality of Kirkland’s decision to discipline and demote the deputy.