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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Cambridge Police Officer Over George Floyd Remarks

A uniformed Cambridge Police officer stands at a protest. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Cambridge Police Department from an officer punished for online comments about George Floyd.
A uniformed Cambridge Police officer stands at a protest. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Cambridge Police Department from an officer punished for online comments about George Floyd. By Julian J. Giordano
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Cambridge Police Department from an officer who was punished for social media comments calling George Floyd “a career criminal, a thief and a druggie,” ruling that the comments were not protected by the First Amendment.

Sergeant Brian E. Hussey sued the City of Cambridge and former CPD commissioner Branville Bard in November 2021 after he was placed on a two-month administrative leave and a subsequent four-day unpaid suspension for his comments. He claimed that the sanctions violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

But U.S. District Court Judge Angel Kelley ruled last week that CPD had a “strong interest” in restricting Hussey’s speech to preserve public trust in the department.

“The effectiveness of the Cambridge Police Department, and any police department, depends on the maintenance of public trust,” Kelley wrote. “Acting in a biased manner, or creating a perception thereof, undermines that trust.”

In his complaint, Hussey claimed that his post had no “disruptive impact” on the community, as it was posted to a private account and deleted after a matter of hours. But Kelley ruled that the broad reach of Hussey’s remarks led to a “breakdown of trust from community members.”

“When a citizen enters a public role, they must accept certain limitations on their freedoms,” she wrote, adding that Hussey was still subject to speech restrictions as a government employee even while speaking as a citizen.

Hussey — who has been employed by CPD since 1997 and was promoted to Sergeant in 2022 — took to Facebook in February 2021 to criticize the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in a quickly-deleted post.

The post was met with alarm and concern from Cambridge residents and leaders, including the leadership of the Cambridge chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Kelley wrote that the offensive nature of Hussey’s comments also influenced her ruling.

“More relevant than the particular terms used was the fact that the thrust of the message disparaged George Floyd as being unworthy of being honored in that manner because of his past criminal conduct and substance abuse issues,” Kelley wrote. “It dismissed the reasons why George Floyd’s life and tragic death inspired the legislation.”

Hussey, who remains employed by the department, and CPD spokesperson Robert Goulston did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday evening.

In a March 2021 interview as part of CPD’s internal investigation, Hussey expressed his regret about Floyd’s death but defended the initial post.

“While George Floyd did not deserve to have his life taken away that day, he was still a violent criminal,” Hussey said. “I feel that attaching the name of a violent career criminal, in ‘honor,’ to a reform bill aimed at the betterment of policing is a disservice to the spirit of the bill.”

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at sally.edwards@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at asher.montgomery@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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