FALLS CHURCH POLICE
Federal Lawsuit Claims Racial Discrimination In Police Department
Saturday, January 6, 2007
Three black officers and one black civilian employee of the Falls Church Police Department have filed a federal civil rights suit against the city, claiming racial discrimination in the department's pay and promotion practices and a hostile work environment for black employees.
One officer alleged that a captain told her last year, "Do you know why the boundaries of Falls Church are 2.2 square miles? To keep the black people out." And the civilian employee, who heads the police dispatch center, said that white commanders "purposefully ignore calls from minority officers for help when on patrol" but do respond when requested by white officers.
The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, adds another layer to the turmoil that has roiled the department since its officers union began complaining about internal problems in 2004. The union said that officers were evaluated on how many traffic tickets they wrote and that their weapons were faulty.
Over the summer, then-Chief Robert T. Murray fired the union president, Scott Rhodes. Last month, after the city was forced to rehire Rhodes, pay him a settlement and allow him to retire with full benefits, Murray retired. The city is searching for a new chief.
Acting Chief Harry W. Reitze said he had not seen the suit and could not comment specifically. "I'm really trying to lead the department in positive directions . . . and to continue to provide the highest level of services and safety to the community," Reitze said. "I'm doing my best to make sure the department is a positive place to work."
The plaintiffs are the officers union's new president, Markus Bristol, Cpl. Frank D. Hicks, Officer Derrica N. Wilson and civilian employee Carolyn A. Pendleton. The suit states that there are no African Americans above the rank of corporal and that Wilson is the only black female officer in the department's history.
Of the 30 sworn officers in the department, five are black, the suit says.
Bristol, a 10-year member of the department, was suspended with pay for four months last year after he and Rhodes publicly pointed out that officers' guns repeatedly misfired in training and that Murray was taking no action to repair or replace them. The suit states he was reinstated without explanation.
Bristol, 38, alleges in the lawsuit that, in conversations with fellow officers, "he is constantly reminded of his superiors' sentiments toward African-Americans, such as: they are lazy, they don't like to work, and they take too much time off."
Hicks, on the force for eight years, said he went on leave for treatment of a brain tumor in 2001. He later found that while he was away, his approved 7 percent pay raise had been reduced to 5 percent by Murray, the suit alleges.
In 2004, Hicks served as a trainer for new officers, without extra pay. But in 2005, Hicks said, white officers he had trained were sent to school for instruction on how to train and then replaced Hicks and were paid extra for the work.
Hicks also said he sometimes called for backup and other officers "wouldn't answer me."
Christopher E. Brown, the plaintiffs' attorney, noted that the black officers frequently filed internal complaints about such treatment. "The command staff would do nothing about it," Brown said. "They'd ignore it."
Wilson, 28, joined the department in 2002 and, among other duties, supervises the city's crossing guards and performs background checks on applicants, but she said the department refuses to pay her a supervisor's salary. She said that she endured racist comments such as the one about the size of Falls Church and that she now suffers from migraine headaches caused by the stressful situation.
Pendleton, 49, joined the department in 1982 and has supervised communications for 15 years. But when she was assigned to also oversee the records unit in 2004, she said she was paid less than the white man who had held the records job, despite having more education and more employees to supervise.