Gibson filed the civil lawsuit against Mayor Jeffery Kilpatrick in 2010 in federal court in north Mississippi. Gibson sought unspecified damages. Less than a year later, Gibson was fired, according to court records.
Gibson argued he had suffered discrimination for exercising his "First Amendment right by reporting illegal activity" in the Mississippi Delta town to other law enforcement agencies.
Kilpatrick argued he was entitled to qualified immunity as to the First Amendment claim because Gibson's speech was not constitutionally protected. Kilpatrick said his actions in reprimanding of Gibson — which continued over two years — were not objectively unreasonable.
Gibson argued the reprimands were in retaliation to his actions.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mills in Oxford, Miss., ruled in October 2012 that Gibson's speech was protected under the First Amendment and Kilpatrick had no immunity from being sued.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday overturned Mills' ruling. The panel said Gibson was not acting as a private citizen when he turned over information about possible misuse of a city gasoline card to other law enforcement agencies. The panel said Kilpatrick's reaction, as Gibson's boss, was not retaliation.
"Gibson acted as the chief of police when he contacted various federal and state law enforcement agencies to report misuse of the city gasoline card. Gibson's argument that reporting illegal activity is the duty of all citizens, and therefore must constitute protected citizen speech, does not alter our conclusion.
"Because we conclude that Gibson acted pursuant to his official job duties in making the reports ... he cannot show that Kilpatrick violated his First Amendment rights. In the absence of such a showing, Gibson cannot overcome Kilpatrick's qualified immunity defense," the panel said in its decision.