|Phoenix New Times|
|Joe Miller, former Mohave County probation officer, was fired for publicly supporting marijuana legalization.|
A probation officer says the state of Arizona and Mohave County fired him illegally to retaliate because he signed a letter in support of a California ballot measure to legalize marijuana. The ACLU of Arizona on Thursday filed a suit on his behalf.
Joe Miller, who lives in Needles, California, was one of 32 law enforcement officers and retired officers who signed the letter, “Law Enforcers Say Control and Tax Cannabis to Protect Public Safety,” in June 2010, reports Courthouse News.
The letter, from the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), endorsed California’s Proposition 19, a November 2010 ballot measure which would have allowed adults to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana. Prop 19 lost, 46.5 percent to 53.5 percent.
LEAP released the letter in September 2010, and Miller’s boss, defendant Friend Walker, chief probation officer of Mohave County, found out in November that Miller had signed it.
Miller was fired in December, despite the letter’s disclaimer making it clear he was not speaking on behalf of the county.
“The Notice of Dismissal states, among other things, that Mr. Miller ‘fail[ed]to maintain neutrality in action and appearance when [he]gave permission to the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) organization to include [his]job title and department ‘Deputy Probation Officer, Mohave County Probation Department’ with [his]endorsement of a California ballot proposition posted on-line [sic]on September 13, 2010,” according to the complaint.
It seems really odd that an officer is terminated for supporting Prop 19, when dozens or hundreds of them publicly opposed the measure — and continue to pose Prop 215, which legalized medical marijuana in the state — without encountering any correction from their employers for “failing to maintain neutrality in action and appearance.”
“I was terminated not because my service was inadequate, but because my views on drug policy didn’t align with those of Mohave County or my superiors in the Probation Department,” said Miller, 54, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona.
“As law enforcement agents and public servants, we swear to uphold the Constitution and it’s only fair for our government to respect our First Amendment rights as well,” Miller said.
|ACLU of Arizona|
|Daniel Pochoda, ACLU of Arizona: “There’s no question Mohave County officials targeted Miller based on his political views”|
”More and more members of the law enforcement community are speaking out against failed drug policies and they don’t give up their right to share their insight and engage in this important debate simply because they receive government paychecks,” said Daniel Pochoda, legal director for ACLU of Arizona.
“In this case, Mohave County Adult Probation officials decided to punish a public servant who works on the front lines with communities most affected by drugs, rather than respect his right to speak out on his own time about the need to reform marijuana laws,” Pochoda said.
“There’s no question Mohave County officials targeted Miller based on his political views,” said Daniel Bonnett with the Phoenix-based law firm Martin and Bonnett, which is cooperating with the ACLU of Arizona on Miller’s defense.
“Government employees have a First Amendment right to speak out on matters of public concern and retaliating against them for exercising their free speech is simply un-American,” Bonnett said.
Mohave County, the fifth-largest county in the United States by square mileage (13,470 square miles), is in northwest Arizona, on the California border. Its county seat is the town of Kingman.
Miller is asking for compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations, wrongful firing, interference with contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He is represented by Pohoda of the ACLU of Arizona, along with Bonnett, Susan Martin, Jennifer Kroll and Mark A. Bracken of Martin & Bonnett.