Trooper Appeals Termination for Off Duty Political Activities

An 18-year Nebraska state trooper is appealing his termination due to his political association with a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. Robert E. Henderson was fired after he disclosed his association with the Knights Party, a group led by racist David Hale. The case before the Nebraska Supreme Court is only the latest in a long line of terminations of police officers for private or politicalassociations during their off-duty hours.

Henderson admitted to his association with the group — which began out of anger at his wife leaving him for an Hispanic man.
After an internal investigation confirmed the association, he was fired in March 2006. Yet, an independent arbitrator from New York ruled in August 2006 that Henderson should not be fired for his political associations.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning appealed that decision and, in a complete abandonment of first amendment principles, Lancaster County District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront upheld Henderson’s firing.

There are some in Nebraska who appear able to separate their personal opinions from their constitutional judgment.
In the oral argument this month, Supreme Court Judge William Connolly asked
“Does the theory of public policy trump freedom of speech and association?”

What makes this story particularly worrisome is the political character of the association. Yet, police departments are now targeting officers with lifestyles or beliefs deemed to be unacceptable, click here.

For the full story, click here and here

4 thoughts on “Trooper Appeals Termination for Off Duty Political Activities”

  1. 06/11/2008
    Court has more questions about fired trooper
    By: Martha Stoddard , Midlands News Service

    LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court has ordered a second round of oral arguments in the case of a Nebraska State Patrol trooper who was fired for joining a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.


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    In its order, the court told attorneys in the case of Robert E. Henderson to submit additional legal briefs by Aug. 1 and to be ready for a new hearing in September.

    The court said the attorneys should address four questions in their arguments: collective bargaining agreements, constitutional rights, binding arbitration and legal precedent.

    Henderson’s attorney, Vincent Valentino, said the court’s order is not routine but is not unprecedented. He said the four questions give little indication of the court’s leanings.

    A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said only that state lawyers would provide the information the court requested.

    The case began when the State Patrol fired Henderson, of Omaha, for joining the Knights Party, which describes itself as the oldest, largest and most-active Klan organization in the United States.

    An internal investigation confirmed that Henderson had joined the party and posted messages to an online discussion group for party members. He said he joined as a way to vent his frustrations over his wife leaving him for a Hispanic man.

    Henderson appealed his firing to an independent arbitrator in 2006, as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement covering state troopers.

    The arbitrator ruled in his favor, saying that Henderson’s firing violated his First Amendment and due process rights.

    Attorney General Jon Bruning appealed the arbitrator’s ruling, arguing that Nebraska’s public policy against racism should bar Henderson from being reinstated.

    Lancaster County District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront upheld Henderson’s firing.

    The case was heard March 4 by the State Supreme Court. At that hearing, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Stine said private citizens are free to think what they want and free to join racist groups. But he said the state has the right to set terms of employment for state troopers.

  2. Interesting debacle. For me it’s not a Freedom of expression thing. It’s the ability for the Officer to do his job that is in question. A fer instance is the traffic stop of an African American. Or maybe someone who has an Obama for President sticker on their car (like me ;). It also reflects on the Force as a whole. I wouldn’t want to be around him. He could easily compromise another’s work.

  3. The deciding issue is probably whether or not the arbitrator’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. Without all the facts it’s hard to tell but, if not, I think Trooper Henderson gets to pin his badge back on. However, I suspect he seen his last days on the road, and my guess he wins and then retires.

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the KKK a domestic terrorist organization will an incredibly well-documented history of infiltrating police departments to facilitate illegal activities including, among other things, arson and murder?

    I’m not saying the termination is right–I’m not familiar enough with the facts of the case. But just from the details here, it sounds like there’s a legitimate debate to be had.

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