Pubdate: Tue, 17 Jul 2012
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2012 Record Searchlight
Author: Jim Schultz


Punishment Violated Civil Rights, He Says

A Trinity County sheriff's deputy reprimanded by his superiors for 
writing letters to the editor of the community's weekly newspaper has 
filed a federal lawsuit against the county, its sheriff's office and 
Sheriff Bruce Haney.

Deputy Mark Potts claims in his lawsuit that his freedom-of-speech 
rights were violated when he was reprimanded in February for writing 
letters to The Trinity Journal.

Haney was out of the office Monday and unavailable for comment.

Filed last week in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, the lawsuit 
alleges the deputy was punished for exercising his constitutional rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation thinks so, too.

It is helping Potts and a San Francisco-based law firm in the lawsuit.

According to his lawsuit, Potts has been writing letters to the 
Weaverville newspaper for years, always on his private time off.

Potts began working for the sheriff's office in 2000 but left in 2004.

He returned in 2007 and continues to work for the sheriff's office.

His letters to the editor have addressed a variety of topics, 
including the wisdom and constitutionality of various laws, the 
appropriate scope of federal governmental authority, the legalization 
of marijuana and the right to carry concealed weapons, the lawsuit states.

"These letters did not create a disruption in the workplace, affect 
Mr. Potts' performance of his job duties or otherwise interfere with 
the operations of the sheriff's office," his lawsuit states.

In fact, it says, he has consistently received positive job 
performance reviews.

The lawsuit says the Trinity County district attorney's office asked 
then-Trinity County Sheriff Lorrac Craig to make Potts stop his 
letter-writing, which he declined to do.

But, the lawsuit said, Sheriff Bruce Haney, who replaced Craig, met 
with Potts in late summer 2011 along with Undersheriff Ken Langston 
to discuss his letter writing.

Haney told Potts that the district attorney's office threatened not 
to prosecute any cases in which Potts investigated if he continued to 
write his letters to the editor, the lawsuit states.

According to his lawsuit, county officials claim Potts has violated 
several provisions of sheriff's office policy, including stating 
opinions that are contrary to the law enforcement code of ethics 
adopted by the office.

Potts stopped writing letters to the editor following his reprimand.

The lawsuit says the county's actions have had a "chilling effect" on 
his right to engage in free speech, and it wants to have his 
reprimand rescinded.

In addition, it seeks to have the court declare that the provisions 
of the sheriff's office policy manual that Potts allegedly violated 
are unconstitutional.

His lawsuit also seeks attorney's fees, costs and any other relief 
the court deems proper.
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