Calif.: Black officers sue city, claim white chief discriminated


By Henry K. Lee, Staff Writer
The San Francisco Chronicle

Six African American members of the Richmond police command staff intend to sue the city, saying Police Chief Chris Magnus discriminated against them because of their race, their attorney said Wednesday.

The three captains and three lieutenants said in complaints filed with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing that Magnus subjected them to racism, harassment and derogatory comments. Magnus, who became Richmond's chief in January after running the police department in Fargo, N.D., is white.

"We intend to file a lawsuit in this matter because there's racism that appears to be rampant within the Richmond Police Department," said Christopher Dolan, a San Francisco attorney representing the six command officers.

The three captains are Cleveland Brown, who oversees Richmond schools police, and Alec Griffin and Eugene McBride, both of whom are in patrol. The lieutenants are Michael Booker, a watch commander on the graveyard shift, Shawn Pickett, who oversees investigations, and Arnold Threets, who heads the office of professional standards and internal affairs.

According to Dolan, Magnus jokingly said in the presence of black senior officers: "Couldn't you see (one of the deputy chiefs) with a whip over (a black captain), smacking him and screaming, 'Dance, jigaboo, dance'?"

Dolan also said there was an instance in which a white command officer --

not Magnus -- told one of the complainants to "tap dance for the entertainment of some of the white senior management staff."

The attorney said there were comments at senior staff meetings "that they didn't want black officers being promoted because there would be a blackout."

In an interview Wednesday, Magnus denied making any derogatory remarks. "That's really outrageous. I've never heard anything like that even said jokingly," he said.

Magnus said in some cases black officers were the ones making racial jokes.

"I think we've tried to communicate that we want people to be able to interact casually with each other and to have a sense of humor, but we also don't want people to make remarks that reflect bias or are racially motivated," the chief said.

Magnus expressed frustration that no one had approached him with these complaints before. He suggested that the allegations were made by people with "hidden agendas."

Some of the six command officers are also accusing Magnus of reassigning them to less desirable positions, Dolan said. Magnus said he promoted Booker and Griffin, a former department spokesman, to their current ranks over the past year.

Magnus said he was warned to expect dissension within the ranks and some degree of "sabotage" when he moved to Richmond.

Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay, who hired Magnus, said Richmond officials were notified Monday that the six command officers had received letters from the state giving them the right to sue. The city is taking their allegations seriously, he said.

"We intend to do a thorough, objective third-party investigation, and we welcome full disclosure of all the facts," Lindsay said.

He added that Magnus has "brought positive change to the department" and "has my complete and unequivocal support."

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