Fehlman v. Mankowski, No. 22-1467 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Fehlman was the Neillsville Police Department’s interim police chief in 2019. In 2020, Mankowski was hired as the permanent chief. Fehlman returned to being a rank-and-file officer. Over the next several months, Fehlman raised concerns about the management of the department, which Mankowski rebuffed. Fehlman and other officers requested a meeting with the Police & Fire Commission (PFC), where Fehlman raised concerns that Mankowski instilled fear in officers; Mankowski lacked professionalism and, while on duty, told a bar owner that he should consider having the owner’s wife dance topless; Mankowski ordered officers to turn off their body cameras in violation of department policy; Mankowski verbally abused suspects; Mankowski changed radio talk procedures in ways that threatened officer safety; Mankowski prioritized speed limit enforcement over responding to an allegation of child abuse at a school.
Mankowski subsequently harassed Fehlman, taking away his work credit card and threatening charges of insubordination. Fehlman resigned from the NPD. Mankowski allegedly interfered with Fehlman’s job search by making false, negative comments (Fehlman was hired nonetheless). Fehlman also discovered that his NPD personnel file had been altered and that Mankowski gave information to the unemployment compensation office that led to a delay in benefits.
Fehlman sued Mankowski under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of his First Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his complaint. Fehlman’s statements to the PFC were made in his capacity as a public employee, not a private citizen.