The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A black police officer complained about racism. He says his department retaliated by firing him.

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David Mitchell retired as a lieutenant with the San Diego Police Department in 2014 — but he wasn’t done being a police officer.

So he signed on with the Chula Vista Police Department, just outside San Diego. Like all lateral entry officers, he had to go through training; but as a 24-year law-enforcement veteran, Mitchell didn’t think it would be a hassle, his attorney said.

He had been a SWAT officer and once saved a woman’s life. As a ranking officer, he was already well-versed in police procedures and California law. He planned to make it through his probationary period and wear the Chula Vista police badge until he was ready to call it quits for good.

Then came the racist comments.

Mitchell was in Chula Vista’s Woodlawn Park last summer when a training officer said, “They used to call this n—– hill,” according to a lawsuit.

Then, the officer recounted how once, in the heat of a high-speed chase, he had almost blurted out “‘n—– hill as a location.”

Later, Mitchell and another training officer were called to a house that was “messy and dirty” for a domestic incident, the suit said. When they left, the training officer told Mitchell: “That’s some jigaboo trailer trash s—, dude.”

“Jigaboo” is a racial slur for black people.

During another call at a bar, a field training officer referred to the patrons as “Nancies,” a derogatory term for gay people.

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Mitchell, who is black, told the training officers’ supervisor about the comments and filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, his attorney said.

“This is really just an experienced lieutenant, a level-headed person who’s doing the right thing and reporting it,” the lawyer, Dan Gilleon, told The Washington Post. “This is not someone who’s complaining about a hostile environment and saying I’m being harmed by this. . . . Sometimes people make mistakes. They say stupid things, and as long as it gets handled  appropriately, the department can improve.”

Instead, Gilleon said, the department retaliated.

Mitchell’s lawsuit says that after complaining, he was placed on administrative leave while the city hired an outside law firm to investigate his claims.

Two months later, his supervisor told him to come back to the office “and to make sure his police equipment was available to be turned over,” the lawsuit said.

Mitchell’s complaints were unfounded, the city told him, and he was being fired.

On Sept. 9, 2015, Mitchell took the first step toward suing Chula Vista. The actions of the officers could be remedied, his attorney said, but the retaliation had bigger ramifications.

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“When you punish someone for speaking out, you’re really taking two steps back,” Gilleon said. “You’re sending a message, ‘Don’t you dare speak up because look what’s happened to Mitchell.’ ”

Chula Vista Assistant City Attorney Bart Miesfeld told The Post he couldn’t comment on the case.

The City of Chula Vista officially settled with Mitchell for $175,000 this week.

In return, Mitchell has dropped his discrimination lawsuit, and his attorney says the department is taking a hard look at racial insensitivity in its ranks.

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