Thursday, July 18, 2024

A cruiser outside Cambridge Police Department headquarter Sept. 12. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A police sergeant’s lawsuit against the City of Cambridge and former police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. was dismissed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston.

In a 33-page memorandum and order, a judge decided that the city’s “strong interest in public trust” outweighed Police Sgt. Brian Hussey’s interest in free speech – a Feb. 25, 2021, post on Facebook in which Hussey described 2020 Minneapolis police murder victim George Floyd as a “career criminal, a thief and a druggie.”

The post was removed quickly from his profile, but it was brought to the attention of Richard Harding, who at the time was a member of the Cambridge NAACP executive board. Harding, Bard, then-city manager Louis A. DePasquale, community activist Mo Barbosa and former mayor Ken Reeves met to discuss the Facebook post, and a copy was given by Bard to the department’s Professional Standards Unit for investigation. Hussey was placed on administrative leave until April 30, 2021, when Bard notified him that he was being suspended for four days without pay for a violation of department rules and regulations.

Hussey filed suit against the city and Bard – individually and in his capacity as commissioner – on Nov. 17, 2021. Hussey alleged that he faced retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. In a motion to amend his initial petition, Hussey claimed that he was also denied a promotion to sergeant in April 2022 due to the discipline from the previous year. The motion was ruled moot when he received the promotion Aug. 31, 2022.

The suit against Bard as an individual was dismissed in a 2022 ruling that he had been protected by qualified immunity. The case against Bard in a professional capacity was allowed to continue, and the city and Hussey filed motions for judgment the next year on June 8. Oral arguments were heard Jan. 29 of this year.

Hussey alleged differential treatment by the CPD for inflammatory statements on social media, citing incidents such as a five-day suspension for an officer who called Congressman Joe Kennedy III “another liberal fucking jerk” on the department’s official Twitter page and a lack of investigation of a post by the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association seemingly threatening a “purge” if police funding was redirected to social services. The court and the city acknowledged a failure to investigate the latter post, but the court ruled that the allegation of differential treatment does not stand because the officer behind the comment regarding Kennedy was suspended, and the Patrol Officers Association is a distinct organization from the Cambridge Police Department and City of Cambridge.

The post, in which Hussey objected to the naming of a police reform bill in honor of Floyd, was written in an “inflammatory and insulting manner” and raised concerns regarding the department’s ability to maintain public trust. Ultimately, it was ruled that the city’s interest in maintaining public trust allowed for discipline for speech that undermined that goal, such as the Facebook post. As such, the city’s motion for summary judgment – to resolve the issue early based on agreed-upon facts without going to trial – was granted, and Hussey’s was denied.

Hussey remains employed by Cambridge police, and has been an officer since 1997. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a patrol officer, later working in the Special Investigation Unit and focusing primarily on drug offenses. In 2020, he was reassigned by Bard to patrol, a decision that was grieved by the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association.

Bard served as commissioner from 2017 to 2021 and is now vice president for public safety at Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he was a member of the Philadelphia Police Department for 24 years and earned his doctorate in public administration from Valdosta State University on the topic of eradicating racial profiling.

Update on March 20, 2024: The case has been appealed by Hussey as of this date.