A Chester, Pa., man says his First Amendment right to criticize the township police
department in public forums has been denied, according to a federal suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
David Ottinger seeks damages in excess of $150,000 from the defendants, including the Chester Township police chief, the president of the Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police and the former Chester Township Council president, for the alleged encroachment of his right to free speech.
According to the compalint, Ottinger has a history of attending Chester Township Council meetings and complaining about the police. Specifically, he details an incident from several years ago when officers entered his house after his wife's death. He alleged to the council that one of the officers stole $6,500 from his home, an accusation that was investigated and closed with no charges filed.
"You have bad police," Ottinger told the council during public comment. "You have criminals with badges."
When told about Ottinger's comments, the president of the Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police, Joseph Fitzgerald, said that Ottinger's comments were being investigated for possible civil litigation, the complaint says. The plaintiff also said that the township council president told him to hire an attorney and contact the solicitor.
Ottinger interpreted the two statements to mean that he is under an investigation encouraged by the township council and that he is not permitted to speak publicly about his criticisms as retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment right to free speech.
The plaintiff contends that the requirement to hire legal representation is an illegal limitation placed on his right to free speech. Ottinger says he suffers from mental anguish, humiliation and severe emotional distress and seeks compensatory damages.
Ottinger is represented by Stephen Yarnell in Narberth, Pa.
The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-04432-LFR.