A nurse who was fired from Memorial Health System after telling a Colorado Springs police officer who gave her a speeding ticket that she hoped she never had him as a patient is suing the city, claiming her constitutional right to free speech was violated.
Last December, Miriam Leverington, of Monument, was pulled over by Officer Duaine Peters for allegedly driving 49 mph in a 35 mph zone.
“During the course of the traffic stop, Ms. Leverington felt that Officer Peters was rude, and their conversation became less cordial,” court documents state.
“After Officer Peters gave Ms. Leverington a copy of the traffic summons, Ms. Leverington told him that she hoped she never had him as a patient,” documents state.
“I hope not, too, because maybe I’ll call your supervisor and tell her you threatened me,” Peters responded, according to the documents.
When Leverington told Peters she wasn’t threatening him, Peters said he didn’t appreciate her comments “whatsoever” and that he was going to call her supervisors, documents state.
Days later, Leverington was fired for threatening a police officer.
According to the lawsuit, Leverington said she didn’t want to have Peters as a patient “because she hoped to never interact with him again.”
But Peters perceived her statement as a threat “that she would not give him appropriate care if he was her patient” at Memorial, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
Leverington is seeking reinstatement, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs, among other things.
“Officer Peters’ decision to contact Memorial Health System to accuse Ms. Leverington of threatening him was substantially motivated as a response to Ms. Leverington’s constitutionally protected speech,” documents state.
In addition, “Ms. Leverington’s speech was off-hours and unrelated to internal office affairs or her status as an employee,” documents state.
Citing the pending litigation, a police spokesman declined comment Monday.
Leverington also declined comment, but her attorney, Ian Kalmanowitz, who specializes in employment law, said the “crux” of the case is whether or not a citizen has a right to criticize a government agent.
“Ms. Leverington was a cardiac care nurse. It’s not as if there was a concern that she’s standing at the door and she’s going to push away an emergency services unit that’s trying to bring this officer in, at least that would be my own perspective of it,” he said. “But I really think what it comes down to, ultimately, is: Do the citizens of our community have the right to criticize government officials without fear of retaliation?”
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