CLEVELAND — A northeast Ohio police officer ordered to remove a political sign from his truck had his free-speech rights violated by the city he worked for — but only for three days, a federal judge ruled.
Officer Rob Breyley's rights were violated only during the time between when he was ordered to remove the sign, which opposed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, and when the city of North Royalton created a new policy about displaying political material, U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver decided last week.
"I just want to go out and do my duties," Breyley said. "But you can never take your rights for granted. If you do, someone will strip them."
In August 2004, Breyley placed a sign reading "Veterans Against John Kerry" in his truck, which he parked in a city-owned lot next to the police station.
A sergeant told him to remove the sign in September, citing a city policy that banned "partisan political activity at any time."
Breyley, an Air Force veteran and 17-year police officer, took the sign out of the windshield, but told his superiors in a memo that he felt being forced to remove it was a violation of his constitutional rights. He then sued the city, Mayor Cathy Luks and his superiors at the police department.
In his ruling, Oliver agreed that the initial policy was too broad to be enforced, but decided a policy the city drafted three days later could stand because it applied only while employees were on duty or on city property.
Breyley's right to free speech is outweighed by his employer's interest in maintaining a neutral environment, Oliver ruled.
A jury will decide in November if Breyley should receive any monetary damages but he said on Sept. 16 that his lawsuit was not about money.
"To me, it's always been a matter of principle," he said.
His lawyer, Avery Friedman, agreed that the damages were unimportant. "It could be $1, it could be $1 million," Friedman said. "All I care about is he was restricted from political expression."
Luks said that since the policy has been changed, she didn't understand why the lawsuit was needed. "As far as damages (go), I'm not sure what they'd be," Luks said. "After all, Bush won."