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New York City is settling a lawsuit with a police officer who blew the whistle on illegal practices in his precinct and was punished, despite being a hero cop. If the $280,000 settlement is approved by the federal court, the city will pay 17-year NYPD veteran Craig Matthews for retaliating when he exposed wrongdoing, reports the New York Daily News.
Matthews was considered a hero after shooting down a crazed gunman near the Empire State Building in 2012. That same year, he exposed stop and arrest quotas at his precinct in the Bronx and the police force retaliated. Matthews was made to pay for speaking up with punitive assignments, lost overtime, and a mark on his record.
Policing the Police
The settlement is $280,000, of which $125,000 are damages to Matthews, about $30,000 is overtime pay, and $130,000 will go to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented Matthews.
Christopher Dunn of the NYCLU said the settlement "completely vindicates" Matthews and will help other cops who come forward to expose wrongdoing. "Officer Matthews was right to object to the quota system in his precinct," Dunn said in a statement, "and this settlement establishes that police officers will be protected when they blow the whistle on unlawful NYPD policies."
But as the experience of Craig Matthews shows, it is not easy to blow the whistle, wherever you work. Often those who expose wrongdoing in an institution are punished, rather than respected for speaking out. That is why whistleblower laws exist.
What Is a Whistleblower?
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln enacted the first American whistleblower law. Based on a British legal principle called qui tam, the law rewarded exposure of fraud or theft associated with government money. It was enacted to entice people to expose wrongdoing related to government spending.
Now there are state whistleblower laws, in addition to federal protections, and they extend to numerous illegal activities. These laws are used to expose wrongdoing and fraud in all kinds of contexts, from financial markets to medical care to policing and more.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you are aware of fraud at your workplace or elsewhere, talk to a lawyer. Whistleblowers often feel alienated, worried, and scared. Retaliation against them is relatively common, so do not go it alone. Consult with an attorney who can guide you and counsel you and help ensure that you are rewarded for doing the right thing.