We are wrapping up our discussion of a whistle-blower case involving a police officer. While not a Wisconsin case, the situation poses a couple of interesting issues for the court related to external organizations investigating alleged wrongdoing in law enforcement agencies.
In this case, the officer told People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that a colleague was abusing police dogs. PETA’s inquiry with the department sparked an internal investigation. That investigation, of course, was conducted by law enforcement officers, and when those investigators asked PETA to identify the whistle-blower, PETA obliged. The organization had promised to keep the reporting deputy’s identity secret, but, according to court documents, PETA felt it had to comply because the request came from law enforcement.
Once his identity was known, the officer claims, the department began to investigate him. The officer says he was forced to resign, and he filed a lawsuit against PETA for sharing his name with his employer. In response to the defendant’s motion to dismiss, a court recently ruled in favor of the deputy.
The court looked carefully at the deputy’s lies to investigators. During the internal investigation, he had denied he was involved with the matter. There was no illegality about those lies, the court said, because the information the deputy did not share had no bearing on the outcome of the investigation. The focus of the investigation was the abuse of the dogs, not the identity of the whistle-blower.
Further, the court said, an internal affairs interview does not constitute an official proceeding. The laws only apply to official proceedings, not casual conversation.
And that took the court back to PETA’s claim it had been compelled by law enforcement to reveal the source. The interview was not an official proceeding — it may have become one at some point in the future, but the situation had not yet progressed that far. The argument that PETA was compelled to disclose the deputy’s name failed on that point.
The deputy’s claim will soon go before a jury, although no trial date has been set.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Naming Whistle-Blower Could Cost PETA,” Iulia Filip, Dec. 5, 2011