Swetlik v. Crawford, No. 12-2675 (7th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Manitowoc police brought in a man suspected of stabbing a police officer. The suspect apparently refused to eat, and officers believed he was mentally unstable. Police Chief Kingsbury arranged for the suspect’s mother to bring him a home-cooked meal, but the chief’s wishes were not communicated until after officers, including Swetlik, had already taken the suspect to the county jail for booking. Kingsbury called the jail and spoke with Swetlik. Swetlik told other police officers that Kingsbury had told him to lie to the jailers and had threatened him and reported the same to a deputy chief. The police union later took a vote of no confidence in Kingsbury and compiled a list of grievances, including Swetlik’s complaint. A private firm was engaged to investigate and ultimately recommended that both Swetlik and Kingsbury be terminated, concluding, based on a recording of the call, that Swetlik lied about the incident. The city council voted to bring termination charges against both. Swetlik was placed on paid leave until a hearing officer recommended dismissal of the charge. Swetlik was reinstated, but sued, claiming retaliation in violation of the First Amendment by bringing charges against him for his complaints about Kingsbury. The district court rejected the claim, finding that Swetlik’s statements were not protected speech because they did not address a matter of public concern. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the defendants were justified in bringing the charge based on the investigation.