Whether Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner and officers from his department violated Brian Addison’s First Amendment rights in retaliation for an editorial Addison wrote in 2008 for The Record-Courier newspaper is a legal question that has yet to be answered.

Although Addison, who filed a lawsuit in 2015 against Lohner and the city, has amassed compelling evidence that after his editorial was published, in which he accused the police department of violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on illegal searches, he was subject to more police attention than the average citizen and also lost his job after Lohner contacted his employer.

But though the constitutional allegations in Addison’s lawsuit have been not ruled on by a judge or jury, we think the related question — whether Lohner is entitled to qualified immunity in the case, which would insulate him from Addison’s lawsuit — is comparatively straightforward.

We agree with U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon, who ruled that Lohner does not qualify for immunity because Lohner, when he contacted Addison’s employers, was acting outside his duties as police chief.

Lohner has appealed that ruling. We hope the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Simon’s decision and allows the matter to be decided during a trial, which has not been scheduled pending the Appeals Court’s decision.

Two groups — the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — have filed briefs urging the Appeals Court to affirm Simon’s ruling.

Officials from both organizations became involved because they’re troubled by Addison’s contention, and the evidence for it, that he was targeted by Baker City Police based on the editorial he wrote.

We’re bothered as well.

It’s a fundamental aspect of free speech, one of the principles on which America was founded, that people are able to criticize their government without fearing reprisals based solely on their speech.

Addison expressed his opinion as a journalist, but the concept applies equally to any citizen, whether write a letter to the editor or make a verbal statement during a City Council meeting.

Lohner contends he contacted Addison’s employers because he was concerned that Addison was potentially violent and thus posed a threat to community safety.

This is not a convincing argument.

The police department’s duty is to enforce the law, not to decide which citizens — most particularly ones who, like Addison, aren’t charged with any crime, violent or otherwise — need to be tattled on, as it were, with their bosses.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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