The longtime head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Ed Mullins, is not known for subtlety. In fact, few would be surprised if his calling card read “indelicate,” “undiplomatic” or even “impolitic.”
But two recent incidents involving his injudicious use of words have led the NYPD’s watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, to recommend that he face disciplinary charges for using offensive language and for abuse of authority tied to Twitter posts in which he called the head of the city’s Health Department a “bitch” and a City Councilman a “first-class whore.”
Ever defiant, Mr. Mullins, a cop since 1982 and SBA president since 2002, has refused to apologize for the posts. In fact, he has doubled down, going so far as to justify them and blasting city officials for trampling on his free-speech rights.
“Police unions—like all unions—must be free to strongly and publicly advocate for the rights of their members without fear of intimidation, retaliation or discipline. The SBA will never be intimidated by the City, the NYPD or CCRB,” he wrote in a letter to his members that he posted on the union’s Twitter account Feb. 15.
And two lawyers with experience in free-speech laws, including Norman Siegel, the prominent civil-rights attorney, suggested that Mr. Mullins could very well have a case given that conviction would, at least to some extent, hinge on his on-the-job performance—as a cop.
“He doesn’t wear a uniform. He’s not interacting with the public, and that’s the key,” Mr. Siegel said. “If in fact he’s paid by the SBA and he’s an employee of theirs, what jurisdiction does the CCRB have over him? And, even if he is an employee or considered with benefits to be a member of the NYPD, the analysis here is he’s not interacting with the public, he’s not a cop out on the street.”
His Magic Words
Sergeant Mullins, who could not be reached for comment, remains an NYPD employee, earning $133,785 in 2020, according to city data, and also pulls in roughly $87,000 for his union tasks, according to the SBA’s IRS filings. Like many labor leaders, he is on release time from his city job to devote full time to union business.
Although the CCRB has not released the charging documents pending clarification of a recent ruling by a Federal Appeals Court regarding the public dissemination of officers’ disciplinary records, Mr. Mullins, in a letter to his members, said the charges were related to two incidents last year.
In the first, he referred to then-Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Oxiris Barbot as a "bitch" who “has blood on her hands” in a May tweet after the disclosure of an exchange between Dr. Barbot and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan when she allegedly said that she did not give “two rats’ asses about your cops” in a dispute about protective equipment during the height of the pandemic.
In his Feb. 15 letter, the union leader cited “her callous, unpleasant, difficult and malicious disregard of cops.” Ms. Barbot resigned from her post in August.
“Again, I stand by my words,” Mr. Mullins wrote. “Nothing has changed. And I offer no apology.”
Doesn't Like His Scruples
He also recounted the second incident, in September, which involved then-City Councilman Richie Torres, saying he had “rightfully called him a ‘first-class whore’ ” since Mr. Torres, who is now a Congressman, had advocated for what the SBA leader called “reforms that support criminals,” budget cuts for the NYPD and, more generally, his “unscrupulous moral values.”
The union leader suggested that he faced a penalty of 60 vacation days for his alleged transgressions, a “threat” he called “laughable.”
“[T]hey can have 100 days; in fact they can take them all,” he wrote. “I do not care about their threats of discipline simply for doing what is right and what is guaranteed by the United State Constitution.”
Mr. Siegel, who pushed for an all-civilian and independent CCRB in the early 1990s and helped draw up some the board’s prosecutorial protocols, said the onus would appear to be on the agency to show that Mr. Mullins’s remarks, however intemperate, affected or could affect his performance as a cop and not just as a union leader, a post where he has considerably more latitude to express himself.
'Kind of Like a Pol'
“He’s the head of the union. He’s a labor leader. One could argue that he's kind of like a politician," Mr. Siegel said.
"He doesn’t ever interact with someone on the street” in his capacity as an officer, he added. "It seems to me that the CCRB going after Mullins, they might be overreaching.”
Daniel Feldman, a Professor of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who holds a law degree from Harvard, also said that finding Mr. Mullins guilty of using offensive language could be a reach for the CCRB, which would have to demonstrate that it undermined his ability to do his job.
“The fair question would be, does his statement interfere with his ability to do his job?” said Mr. Feldman, who has served as counsel to several state officials and departments. “That actually may matter for the purposes of First Amendment law.”
Shock Value Diminished
While CCRB prosecutors could argue that calling Ms. Barbot a “bitch” would undercut public confidence in Mr. Mullins’s ability to, as an officer, deal equitably with women, calling a politician a “whore” is such a common occurrence as to hardly be worth noting, said Mr. Feldman, a former Brooklyn Assemblyman.
“I would be hard-pressed to find that his comment impairs his ability to do his job,” he said.
The CCRB did not respond to a request to speak with an agency attorney.
In his letter to members, Mr. Mullins suggested that he would retaliate in kind. “Be assured that this obvious attempt to silence me will be met with strong and swift legal action,” he wrote.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.