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Greenwood officer facing dismissal sues city, police chief over right to free speech

Greenwood officer facing dismissal sues city, police chief over right to free speech

GREENWOOD, Ind. (WISH) — A suspended Greenwood police officer facing disciplinary action has filed a lawsuit in federal court saying the city government is trying to punish him over his right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Sam Bowen is one of two Greenwood officers facing a possible firing in a Sept. 20 hearing of Greenwood’s Merit Commission, according to Police Chief James Ison.

Bowen in June filed a lawsuit in federal court in Indianapolis against Ison and the city government.

Bowen says he’s being disciplined for making comments in social media discussions prior to the May 2 Republican primary win of Republican Mayor Mark Myers. Myers received 55% of the votes in defeating a former Center Grove School Board leader, Joe Hubbard. Myers is unopposed in the November general election.

Bowen’s lawsuit says his comments were about the “perceived lack of transparency in reporting criminal activity and alleged attempts by incumbent Mayor Mark Myers … and Ison to downplay the reporting of violent crime in the City.”

Bowen noted in the lawsuit that he did not identify himself as a Greenwood police officer in the comments. Bowen joined the force in October 2020.

On the day of the primary election, Ison informed Bowen by letter that he could no longer work “in an off-duty law enforcement capacity.” Bowen had been operating a private security service during his time off, the lawsuit says. Bowen, at the same time, was told in the letter that he could no longer use a take-home police vehicle.

“At the time he gave Bowen the letter, Ison made it clear to Bown (cq) that the reason for the actions was Bowen’s participation in the Facebook exchanges critical of Myers and Ison,” the lawsuit says.

Also on the day of the primary election, another officer was also subjected to the same action for the same reasons, the lawsuit says. That officer is not named in the lawsuit.

On June 26, shortly after Bowen filed the lawsuit, the city government’s legal staff got all of Bowen’s instant messages and gave them to Ison.

On Aug. 2, six police officers including Bowen were interviewed about their instant messages. The other five officers had been named in Bowen’s instant messages, but their instant messages had not been obtained by the city’s legal staff.

On Aug. 7, Ison recommended Bowen and four other officers be fired.

On Tuesday morning, Ison told News 8 by email that Tyler Kintzele, Zane Hennig and Jacob Hagist resigned from the Greenwood Police Department.

Ison also said a Merit Commission hearing set for 5 p.m. Sept. 20 will determine whether to fire Bowen and Officer Elijah Allen.

“I have requested that the Merit Commission terminate the employment of both officers should the violations listed below be substantiated in the hearing,” Ison said in the email to News 8.

“Charge 1. Violation of Greenwood Police Department Policy 321 “Information Technology Use”. Specifically, section 321.2 Policy – It is the policy of the Greenwood Police Department that members shall use information technology resources, including computer, software and systems that are issued or maintained by the Agency in a professional manner and in accordance with this policy.

“Charge 2. Violation of Greenwood Police Department Policy 422 “Mobile Data Center Use”. Specifically, section 422.4 “Restricted Access and Use”- Sending derogatory, defamatory, obscene, disrespectful, sexually suggestive, harassing or any other inappropriate messages on the MDC system is prohibited and may result in discipline.

“Charge 3. Violation of Greenwood Police Department Policy 320 “Standards of Conduct”. Specifically, section 320.5.9 (h) Use of obscene, indecent, profane or derogatory language while on-duty or in uniform and section 320.5.9 (p) Any other on- or off-duty conduct which any member knows or reasonably should know is unbecoming a member of this agency, is contrary to good order, efficiency or morale, or tends to reflect unfavorably upon this agency or its members.

“Any further information regarding the officers who have resigned will need to come in the form of a public records request. Thank you.”

Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt reassigned Bowen’s lawsuit to Magistrate Judge Tim A. Baker from Judge M. Kendra Klump in “the interest of speedy administration of justice” and “to ensure appropriate oversight.” Baker scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Indianapolis.

Indianapolis-based employment and civil rights attorney Jay Meisenhelder is representing Bowen.

Carmel-based attorneys Pamela G. Schneeman and Rosemary L. Borek are representing Ison and the Greenwood city government. Schneeman has demanded a jury trial on the matter. Ison and the Greenwood city government have until Wednesday to file a response to Bowen’s lawsuit.

Bowen is seeking damages and compensation for emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and damage to his reputation, and for Ison’s “wilful, reckless and malicious actions.”

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