Deputy Potts Can’t Be Silenced

According to a recent court ruling, law enforcement officials cannot be silenced or reprimanded for speaking out against the drug war. A Trinity County Deputy who made national news when he sued the County for restricting him from sending letters to the editor about subjects which included the opinion that “drug laws, just like Prohibition, have given rise to a black market and created the Mexican Drug Cartels” has received an injunction protecting his free speech rights.

Trinity County Deputy Mark Potts worked narcotics from 2008 to 2011 and the perspective he gained gave him concerns about the drug war. During that time he was assigned to the Narcotics Investigations Unit, where, he said, “I focused on marijuana enforcement.”  Even earlier though, Potts wrote letters to the local paper, The Trinity Journal.  Letters he described in his court papers as “generally themed around the Constitution, related laws, and how we have gotten very far away from the original intent of the Constitution.”

The District Attorney of Trinity County expressed concern about some of Potts’ letters might affect his testimony in court. In a sworn declaration, the former sheriff of Trinity County, Lorrac Craig, stated

When I was Sheriff, District Attorney Michael Harper approached me about Mark’s letters to the editor and urged me to restrain Mark from writing any letters to the newspaper. District Attorney Harper expressed to me his concern that if Mark testified in a criminal case that he had investigated, his letters to the editor might become an issue in the trial, I told the District Attorney that if it actually came up in a case, I was sure Mark would handle himself well on the stand. My approach was that we could deal with it, if a problem actually arose, but no such problem ever arose when I was Sheriff.

… My position, which I told District Attorney Harper, was that as long as Mark did his job, I did not have a problem with his editorial writing. I therefore refused to stop Mark from writing letters to the newspaper….As someone who worked in law enforcement for approximately 30 years, what mattered to me was how my deputies performed their job, and not their political opinions. Mark always did his job diligently.

…Mark’s letters, in which he expressed his views on various legal and policy issues,
did not cause me the concern that he would be lenient about enforcing marijuana or other laws.
When it came to his work, he took his duties seriously. 

In 2010, Potts ran for Trinity Co. Sheriff and lost to Bruce Haney. According to Sheriff Haney’s statement in sworn court documents, Potts continued to write letters to the Trinity Journal.  Including one in 2011 in which he discussed jury nullification (where juries can refuse to convict someone guilty of a crime but not, in their opinion deserving of punishment.)

The DA approached Haney and, according to Sheriff Haney, “advised me that it was improper for Deputy Potts to tell the public that they can disregard the law.” Haney had Potts called in and made aware of what he felt were Potts’ improper actions in writing his opinions in letters to the newspapers.

Potts continued to write letters including ones entitled Prohibition Creates Markets and Incarceration Nation which Potts characterized as questioning the “wisdom of laws against drugs.” An investigation was begun and in February of 2012, Potts was given a written reprimand for violating department policy and warned that further incidents could result in him being fired.

In the summer of 2012 Potts sued, not for money, but for the removal of the reprimand and the right to speak his mind on issues. He wanted to continue to “express his deeply held views about the Constitution.” The ACLU took up his case. A few days ago, Trinity County was ordered to expunge Potts’ reprimand, pay his attorney fees, and desist from interfering in his right to speak his mind.

Potts proclaimed in a September letter to the editor, “Government employees did not check their rights at the door when they signed on. Quite the contrary, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of which the freedom of speech is a part…Who better to judge the folly of our “War on Drugs” than the cops that fight it on a daily basis? Should these warriors be silenced? I think not. These are the very people with the intimate knowledge necessary to make an informed decision… .”




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