Janette Rodrigues March 17, 2001, Saturday 3 Star Edition Copyright 2001 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company The Houston Chronicle March 17, 2001, Saturday 3 Star Edition
(HOUSTON) -- Anthony Truitt was a living, breathing, recruitment poster for the Harris County Sheriff's Department.
Young, black and gifted, he had ambitions beyond being a deputy. He was going to take the patrol, sergeant and detective exams. He planned to be on the job for the long haul.
A year after Truitt filed a racial bias complaint against the department and quit, he feels vindicated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's conclusion this week that the department violated his civil rights.
But it can't erase the fact the department had him and 15 other African-American deputies rounded up and photographed as possible suspects in a 1999 rape investigation. The rape allegation remains unsubstantiated.
"They can never restore the dignity they took away from me and the other deputies," Truitt said Friday.
Robert Amboree, president of the Afro-American Sheriff's Deputy League, said some of the 16 deputies have expressed interest in settling with the department, but others are thinking about pursuing the matter with private attorneys.
Sheriff Tommy Thomas denied the allegations through a spokesman and declined any further comment.
Last month, the sheriff admitted his department has problems, but added, "There have been some misperceptions portrayed by the media."
Since August, the department has disciplined a white lieutenant and a sergeant for making racially derogatory remarks to black employees. Another white sergeant was fired for threatening black inmates and using the "n-word." And last month a white lieutenant was accused of referring to a black subordinate as a "monkey."
A task force of local black leaders, the department and others are looking into the allegations of racism.
The EEOC wants the parties involved in the incident to enter into conciliation. Truitt is willing to do that, but he's taking a wait and see approach.
Amboree, fired last month after 20 years with the department for alleged failure to do his job and other violations, doesn't believe it will be willing to settle with the deputies even though the EEOC investigation revealed evidence of racial bias and a double standard.
In May 1999, an inmate reported that a female friend who came to the jail at 701 N. San Jacinto to visit him had been raped in a restroom by a black, male deputy during the 2-10 p.m. shift.
The following month, a department investigator herded deputies into a holding cell and an interview room to have their pictures taken against the wall.
The EEOC found that although the alleged victim specifically described her assailant to the investigator, the deputies photographed differed in size, weight, age and complexion.
Several were not assigned to the shift or floor where the alleged incident occurred, according to the EEOC.
Truitt said he told the investigator and a supervisor in the room that he wasn't even at work the day of the alleged rape, but that they threatened to write him up for insubordination if he didn't have his picture taken.
The EEOC found differences in the way the department's internal affairs division investigated the alleged incident and complaints of a sexual nature involving deputies of other races and ethnic groups.
Deputies of other races and ethnic groups had not been rounded up and subjected to photographs in the presence of co-workers and inmates as were the African-American deputies, according to the EEOC.