When Brian Addison became a journalist, he likely knew that some of his writing would be controversial. What he might not have anticipated was that something he wrote would cause a government-sponsored campaign of misinformation and intimidation by the police resulting in the loss of his job and fearing for his safety in his hometown. Unfortunately, this is what happened to Brian. Today, we filed a brief in the Ninth Circuit to defend his First Amendment right to criticize local law enforcement actions without fear of retaliation.
In 2008, Brian wrote an editorial for his employer, The Record-Courier, regarding the Baker City Police Department’s use of a drug-sniffing dog at a high school basketball tournament. Brian criticized the police department’s practice as a violation of the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. When Baker City police chief, Wyn Lohner, read the editorial, he was outraged. He contacted the newspaper and demanded it be retracted. But they refused.
After his article was published, Brian, who had little prior contact with the police, was stopped on the street or pulled over while driving at least a dozen times. The police department also encouraged his former employer to file a stalking citation against him, which a judge quickly dismissed. Chief Lohner put a flag on Brian in the department’s dispatch system, a rare notation generally used for dangerous criminal suspects, not critical journalists. Chief Lohner eventually went so far as contacting not one, but two of Brian’s employers to suggest that Brian was an unsuitable employee. Finally, Chief Lohner suggested to Brian’s new employer that Brian had a dark past, and he recommended an extra background check. When the employer did so, the police department provided a fake dossier of run-ins with local police that made Addison look like a criminal—a dossier that appears to have been altered to make Brian look dangerous. The chief’s misconduct cost Brian his job. What’s more, Chief Lohner has stated that he intends to contact Addison’s future employers, as well. It has been nearly a decade since Brian published the editorial.
The First Amendment protects the crucial role of journalists to shine a light on government practices and, when necessary, call those practices into question. The government cannot punish that speech by retaliating against people who have said things government actors don’t like. To do so is a patent violation of the Constitution. And yet that is exactly what the Baker City police chief did when he maliciously interfered with Addison’s employment and set his police force out to systematically harass him.
Our ‘friend-of-the-court’ brief urges the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the District Court’s decision to allow Brian Addison to continue pursuing the vindication of his First Amendment rights.