Philly police union sues whistleblower to keep dirty laundry out of public light
Andre Boyer calls himself a crusader for the truth.
The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police sees him as a lying, vengeful nutcase.
And now, a judge has been asked to decide: The FOP has sued Boyer, an ex-cop who posts incendiary allegations about police officers on his Facebook page, for defamation.
Boyer, 49, was a 17-year police veteran in the Philadelphia Police Department when he got fired in 2013 — a dismissal brass blamed on credibility concerns but Boyer claims was for being a whistleblower.
Since then, Boyer has made it his mission to expose dirty cops on his Facebook page.
“They (police brass and FOP) hate that; they don’t want their dirty laundry aired out in public,” Boyer said. “But I want to report the injustice and be the voice of those cops who want to stand up like me but can’t. I’ll be their voice in the darkness to bring the truth to light.”
Bashing Philadelphia cops seems to have become a favorite pastime among activists and other law enforcement critics, and some of the outcry is warranted. Dozens of Philadelphia cops have been arrested in recent years for offenses ranging from domestic assault and theft to murder. (One cop, Deric Lewis, had even been arrested three times by the time he got fired in January.) And a federal Justice Department study sounded alarms last year about the city’s police-involved shootings and deadly-force policies.
But what’s different about Boyer’s crusade is that he’s taken what used to be whispered gossip that barely made it past the water cooler and moved it online for all to read and judge.
Some of his recent posts involved a corporal suspended for calling a black boss “a banana-eating monkey”; six citywide vice officers reprimanded and ordered to pay more than $13,000 restitution after routinely leaving work hours early; a lieutenant accused of scamming PECO; and two police supervisors accused of unrelated sexual assaults.
Sometimes he posts documents backing up his claims. But often, he does not.
That irks John McNesby, one of eight plaintiffs named in the defamation complaint filed March 31 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
“Working for the city is like putting a screen door in the summer – everything leaks. That’s just the nature of the game,” said McNesby, president of the FOP’s Lodge 5. “But he’s (Boyer) a nut. He’s harming our officers. Some (union) members asked us to do something about it. I’m looking forward to shutting him down.”
Boyer, meanwhile, countered: “Everything that I posted was true, so how can it be defamation if everything is true?”Boyer’s attorney Stephen O’Hanlon agreed: “It appears that most of what he has alleged is either true or has been previously published (elsewhere).”
Still, Boyer launched a GoFundMe campaign in February to try to crowd-source his expected legal costs. Just three people have donated a combined $50 since then to his “Dirty Corrupt Philly Cops fund,” far short of its $10,000 goal.
Boyer’s Facebook page is not the only outlet to publicize alleged police misconduct that bosses would rather keep quiet.An anonymous blogger chronicles corruption claims on a WordPress blog titled SecretSociety2015. Boyer said he is not that blogger and doesn’t know who is. McNesby said he wasn’t aware of the blog.
And in the case of the corporal accused of making the “banana-eating monkey” comment, someone stuffed copies of his disciplinary paperwork under windshields of cars parked outside the 24th and 25th police district offices in Juniata Park.
The police department responded to that illicit leafletting by dispatching investigators to try to identify the culprit.
One defamation expert said Boyer’s misadventures are becoming increasingly common as more people use social media.
“It’s a lot easier to put information on a Facebook page than it is to get published in a newspaper. That ease of access lets people say what they want to say, but they may not be very well-informed about the law of defamation or the consequences (if something is defamatory),” said Melissa Melewsky, media law attorney with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
Defamation is when someone makes false statements of fact that harm the subject’s reputation, Melewsky added.
“It’s got to be false; the truth is not defamatory,” she added. “And it’s got to be a statement of fact, because opinion is not defamatory. Calling somebody a scumbag is an opinion protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Calling someone a drug dealer or saying they’re embezzling cash, that’s statement of fact, and if false, can be defamatory.”Even that gets murky, though, when the subject is a public official, Melewsky said.
“There are very different standards of proof: Public officials have to prove actual malice. A private individual only have to show simple negligence,” she said.
The defamation lawsuit wasn’t the first stink-bomb lobbed in the fight between Boyer and the FOP.
Boyer sued the FOP for malpractice in June, claiming an FOP-appointed attorney inadequately represented him as he fought for reinstatement.
He sees the FOP’s recent defamation complaint as retaliation for his lawsuit.
So he plans to jump headfirst down the rabbit hole: “Their suit is retaliation for my suit. So I’m going to sue them. Again.”
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