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I refused to lie under oath for the state of Arizona, and the courts are not on my side

When a witness testifies in court, he or she takes an oath to speak “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The laws also prohibit a witness from being persuaded to give inaccurate testimony or perjury. Arizona, for example, considers it a crime to attempt to “influence” the testimony of a witness.

As I discovered, however, if you work for the government, your superiors cannot be held financially responsible for ordering you to change your testimony and retaliate against you when you refuse.

I worked as a medical examiner for almost 40 years in various medical agencies and laboratories, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Office of Scientific Analysis, which I ended up pursuing.

I have regularly testified in court on the results of the accused’s blood alcohol samples.

A series of USA TODAY opinions: Faces, victims, issues and debates around qualified immunity

Greg Ohlson retired from the Arizona Department of Public Safety in 2017.

At the Arizona Department of Public Safety, samples from several defendants were analyzed in batches. The department preferred to give criminal defense lawyers only the sample of their accused. I told my supervisors that the fairest and most objective method was to provide defense counsel with the entire batch of samples, so that they could better review and determine the results. I considered this to be a best practice and within my professional discretion.

Told to change testimony in court

In 2016, I testified in two DUI cases that the disclosure provided to defense lawyers was incomplete. I was asked if there was a scientific reason for not disclosing the information. I said no. I was asked if the undisclosed data could show that there was a problem with the blood test. I said yes, based on my professional opinion.

Then all hell broke loose.

I was told by my superiors that I had to change my testimony in court.

I said I would not change my testimony. I was then suspended – locked out of my computer and my key card was taken from me. After months of isolation from my job and my team, it was determined that I had been insubordinate and I was fined. I felt I had to retire.

For the Arizona DPS, the concern has never been to ensure that the state does not convict innocent people.

My son was killed by a ranger.But I may never see justice.

Greg Ohlson in Arizona on September 20, 2021.

Greg Ohlson in Arizona on September 20, 2021.

I filed a complaint in federal court for violating my First Amendment right to free speech. Everyone I spoke to, including many lawyers, told me, “They can’t do this. The government cannot order you to change your testimony and then punish you if you always tell the truth.

Incredibly, they were wrong.

Qualified immunity outweighed my rights

The U.S. District Court for the Arizona District recognized that there had been a violation of my free speech rights, but granted the defendants qualified immunity, which means they will not have to pay damages.

Court ruled that the law was not “clear” on whether government employees had the First Amendment right to be exempt from discipline for court testimony offered in the course of their work .

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I appealed the court decision. In August, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that I could not recoup my financial losses because the court had not previously provided for an exception to the qualified immunity that protects employees. of government discipline from their employer for telling the truth in court. In short, my First Amendment rights were not “clearly established” by the district court.

How is it possible?

According to qualified immunity, even if the government conduct was illegal, as there is no case that government supervisors cannot punish an employee for truthful testimony in court, my supervisors were not at aware that this kind of conduct could result in civil liability for them.

That does not make sense.

I’m a scientist, not a lawyer, but I don’t understand why a supervisor would need a court to tell them that you can’t punish someone for truthful testimony. I fear for government employees. That they can be punished for telling the truth and end up having to quit their jobs because of it, that doesn’t sound like justice.

Qualified immunity robbed me of my chance at justice. It must be abolished.

Greg Ohlson retired from the Arizona Department of Public Safety in 2017.

This column is one of a series by the USA TODAY Opinion team examining the issue of qualified immunity. The project is made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together. Stand Together does not provide editorial input.

You can read various opinions from our Board of Contributors and other editors on the Opinion home page, on Twitter. @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, send a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Qualified Immunity Allows Arizona to Punish Me for Telling the Truth

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.

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