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Judge Overturns Police Lawsuit Law

October 21, 1999

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ A federal judge has overturned a 1982 state law that allowed police officers to sue individuals who complained of police misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor on Wednesday ruled that the law violated Constitutional rights to free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law saying officers had been using it to prevent people from following through with complaints.

The ACLU filed suit on behalf of Myron Gritchen, who was stopped in April 1998 by a Long Beach police officer and accused of speeding. Gritchen, who denied the charge, filed a complaint against the officer and two months later received a letter from the officer’s attorney threatening to sue him.

``We’re extremely pleased that the federal court has struck down a law that has been used as a tool for retaliation,″ said John Crew, director of the ACLU’s police practices project.

Crew said the state law was the only type of its kind in the country.

Ted Hunt, president of the 10,000-member Los Angeles Police Protective League, called the ruling a setback for officers.

``The court has ruled that as a police officer I don’t have the constitutional right that every other citizen has to sue somebody who has made an untrue, false and deceptive accusation. That’s wrong,″ Hunt said.

It is unknown how many cases have been filed by police officers against citizens because most of the lawsuits have been taken up in small claims court, Crew said.

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