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Retired DNR police officer claims captain caused firing from civilian job

A retired Maryland Natural Resources Police officer has filed suit against the department, alleging he was fired from his civilian employee position in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Norris Paul Carey Jr., who retired from MNRP in 2013 after 26 years of service then began work in a civilian role in 2015, alleges a captain with the Internal Affairs Division of the agency pushed for his termination and defamed him, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Carey wrote two anonymous blog posts for Salisbury News in December 2016 and January 2017 alleging Captain Edward Johnson did not follow the department’s code of conduct and was “duplicitous in terms of his personal behavior and his investigation of fellow officers for alleged suspicions of misconduct.” The posts included Facebook posts allegedly made by Johnson.

An anonymous commenter Carey believes was Johnson subsequently commented on the January post, identified Carey as the poster and appeared to threaten his employment with the Department of Natural Resources, the lawsuit states. The comment was later deleted by the blog.

In the months following the blog posts’ publications, Johnson spoke with Carey’s employers at DNR and other officers about Carey as well as attempted to discredit him as a witness in a federal trial over the distribution of prize money at the 2016 White Marlin Open, culminating in a public Facebook post attacking Carey’s integrity, the lawsuit states.

“I think that in an ideal world, there would be no social media,” said Carey’s attorney, Robin R. Cockey of Cockey, Brennan & Maloney PC in Salisbury. “If I could pick my one lawyer’s wish for the world, it would be that there would be no Facebook, no Instagram (and) that people would just lay off this stuff, because it has turned into a fertile source for litigation.”

As a result of Johnson’s actions, Carey’s license to carry a firearm as a retired officer was revoked soon after he was certified. The captain handling the application made reference to confidential information about his employment with MNRP, which indicated he and Johnson spoke about him, according to the complaint.

Around that time, Carey also was preparing to testify as an expert witness in the White Marlin Open case. Carey administered the post-tournament polygraph tests, and Johnson emailed him in May asking about the timing of the trial.

The trial was the subject of a post on Salisbury News, and an anonymous commenter claimed one of the polygraph examiners had “a less than stellar background and lacks integrity,” according to the complaint. Previously, an anonymous email was sent to the plaintiff’s legal team claiming to have “derogatory information” about Carey.

After Carey testified without incident, Johnson wrote on the White Marlin Open Facebook page that Carey “has the integrity of a lifer on death row,” according to the complaint.

Carey was fired by the DNR deputy secretary in without explanation and before his contract was set to expire, the complaint states. He alleges his firing was free speech retaliation for something done on his own time that did not interfere with the workplace, and Johnson and a second captain “used the prestige of their office to bring about Mr. Carey’s termination,” the lawsuit states.

Carey also alleges Johnson defamed him on the White Marlin Open Facebook page with the intent to injure his career.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday because it had not yet been received by attorneys.

The case is Norris Paul Carey Jr. v. Maryland Natural Resources Police et al., 1:18cv00162.

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