(CN) - The Pennsylvania police chief who reported a cop for photographing a passed-out woman having her anus and vagina penetrated has a case for retaliation, a federal judge ruled.
As police chief of Pittston, Pa., Jeff Tayoun found the 46 illicit photos taken by Officer Robert Semyon on a department computer in October 2009.
The photos allegedly showed "the nude body of the victim (A.H.) who was unconscious or otherwise unaware," and four of the images "depict penetration of the victim's anus and vagina," a brief Tayoun filed with the court in Scranton states.
Tayoun immediately asked then-Mayor Donna Connors to suspend Semyon, met with city council members, and took the computer to the State Police Crime Lab for analysis.
After the state attorney general's office received copies of the photos from Tayoun, it opened a criminal investigation. Semyon ultimately pleaded guilty to aggravated indecent assault, among other charges, and served more than a year in prison.
Tayoun meanwhile faced a demotion and believed it was "because [he] turned in another cop who was friends with" the city's new mayor, Jason Klush
Klush countered that he simply believed it was time for a change and that he had the power to change the police chief at will.
But Tayoun said Klush and other officials required him alone to complete daily activity logs and to use Semyon's old locker, which still contained the former officer's personal effects.
Officials also allegedly barred Tayoun's co-workers from donating him sick time, as others had in the past, and killed Tayoun's fish in his office fish tank.
Denying any involvement in Tayoun's alleged mistreatment, Klush insisted that he merely allowed the new police chief to run the force however he chose.
Tayoun sued Pittston and Klush for retaliation, and U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann refused to grant either defendant summary judgment Tuesday.
"Aside from presenting hyperbolic conclusory statements unsupported by evidence, the defendants did not establish that the police chief had any general duty to report to the Pennsylvania attorney general, or that Tayoun was under an order or duty to report to the attorney general in this particular instance," Brann wrote.
The facts show that Tayoun spoke on a matter of public concern, the ruling states.
"It is undoubtedly a public concern that those charged with the duty and privilege to enforce the law be law abiding citizens themselves," Brann wrote.
The judge later added: "Significantly, the officer stored the evidence of criminal activity on a police department computer - equipment supplied by taxpayer labor and the public monies it produced. More significantly still, the fact that Tayoun's speech led to a successful criminal prosecution of the offending police officer further indicates its public import."
Nothing indicates that Tayoun had any personal impetus for his speech, the judge ruled.
"The speech did not concern any abuse or mistreatment Tayoun suffered at the hands of his employers, and the thrust of his speech did not relate to an employment dispute," Brann wrote. "Tayoun had no personal interest in his speech aside from his interest as a member of the public in ensuring that officers of the law are themselves law abiding."
Material facts remain in dispute, and a jury should decide them, the court found.