May 07, 2009
|If City Won't, The Rhino Will|
Unlike the City of Greensboro, The Rhinoceros Times will be happy to help the US Department of Justice in its search for information about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by 39 black police officers against the city for supposed racial discrimination.
We will be glad to supply the Justice Department with copies of the Risk Management Associates (RMA) report and the city legal report with the understanding that their attorneys also will read The Rhino articles dissecting these reports, which are ongoing.
We don't have all the records that the Justice Department has requested from the city, but we have memos the city has but won't admit that it has, as well as other information that we will be pleased to supply to the Justice Department because, unlike the city, we are interested in justice and the public's right to know what is going on in its own government.
The 39 black police officers filed an EEOC complaint back in 2006, reportedly based largely on accusations of discrimination proven by the use of the "black book" and allegations in the RMA report. The EEOC made the determination that based on the use of the black book, these officers had sufficient evidence they had been discriminated against to move forward with their legal action. It is a confusing determination because of the 39 officers who signed the complaint, only 17 are in the black book. In a sworn statement, former City Manager Mitch Johnson stated the city had no written or recorded evidence that the black book had been used improperly. Police Chief Tim Bellamy agrees that the line-up book that has come to be known as the black book was a legitimate investigative tool.
The City of Greensboro is about to be sued by the Department of Justice, which sent people to Greensboro to investigate whether the alleged discrimination in the Police Department actually took place. The city has boatloads of documents that prove that the 39 officers were not discriminated against because of race. However, the attorneys for the City of Greensboro refuse to turn these documents over to the Justice Department. It doesn't seem to make much sense unless the city wants to be sued by the Justice Department.
When the US Justice Department got stonewalled by the City of Greensboro and its hired attorneys, Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorney Toni Jackson sent a letter to Alan Duncan and Julie Theall of Smith Moore Leatherwood, who are representing the city in this case. Duncan is also chairman of the Guilford County Board of Education and serves as an attorney for the News & Record, so he wears lots of hats around the city.
The letter from Jackson states: "This is in response to your letter dated May 1, 2009. Despite your assertions in that letter, we do not believe that the City has cooperated with the Department of Justice's investigation, or that the City's non-cooperation is based on a reasonable interpretation of relevant laws.
"As you note, we decided to return to Washington, D.C. after our attempted interview with RMA personnel. During that interview, you limited Mr. Longmire and Mr. Truax to discussing the four corners of two pages of the 32-page RMA report, and indicated that they could not mention any Greensboro employee's name that was not on the paper or who had not signed a release. Your decision to limit the interviews in this manner made questioning Mr. Longmire and Mr. Truax about the Report and their investigation impossible. Given your intent to impose similar restrictions on the ten (of our twenty-six requested) interviews you were willing to schedule for Wednesday through Friday, April 29 – May 1, 2009, it was clear that no productive interviewing regarding relevant information could occur."
It's nice when some high-falutin lawyer from Washington, DC, makes the same argument that a local weekly has been making for years, and in the next paragraph the Department of Justice does just that.
The letter continues: "As you know from our prior correspondence, the Department believes that the City's interpretation of North Carolina's Privacy of Employee Personnel Records Act ("N.C. Privacy Act"), N.C.G.S.A Section 160A-168 is unreasonable and incorrect, and that the City is improperly using the N.C. Privacy Act to hinder this investigation. Your recent interpretation of this law, which on its face applies to physical records, to include any discussion of one employee by another in interviews conducted in connection with a federal law enforcement investigation, seems particularly ill-founded. Our decision to return to D.C., therefore, was a cost and time saving measure, and was the most prudent decision we could make after you also indicated that you would not allow any of the ten witnesses to speak about any City employee who had not signed a release under the N.C. Privacy Act.
"We will continue our efforts to gather relevant information from other sources, and may be forced to construe the City's refusal to permit reasonable interviews of witnesses as an indication that the information those witnesses would have provided would be favorable to the charging parties."
One explanation for why the City of Greensboro would refuse to cooperate with the Department of Justice is that the city staff and the attorneys representing the city want the Justice Department to take the case. If the Justice Department takes the case then the lawyers representing the city will make a bunch of money, and in the end the city will most likely make some kind of settlement with the 39 black officers. It will be a lose-lose for the city because the legal fees will be higher going up against the Justice Department, which has unlimited funding, and the cost to settle the case will be higher because the Justice Department does not have a lot of incentive to settle.
This is a case where the City Council could step up and force the city to do what it hates to do – release information. But in this case it would be releasing information to the Department of Justice, not some extremely popular local weekly publication.
Early in this process the staff and the attorneys hired to represent the city from Smith Moore Leatherwood wanted to settle this case for $750,000. They offered the 39 officers $750,000, but the offer was not accepted. The City Council voted to make that offer on the advice of legal counsel, not knowing who had filed a complaint against them or if the case had any merit. It has been reported that only Mayor Yvonne Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat knew the names of the officers who had filed the complaint.
Councilmember Mary Rakestraw asked repeatedly for the names and was finally told by City Attorney Terry Wood that he would reveal the names of the police officers who had filed the EEOC complaint to the council if the council by a majority vote, asked him to do so, but that he would not reveal the names to an individual councilmember except for those involved in the negotiations.
When The Rhino Times released the names of the 39 officers to the public and to the city councilmembers, the council almost immediately voted to remove the $750,000 offer from the negotiating table.
The EEOC complaint involves racial discrimination caused by the black book, and in promotion and discipline. So these 39 men are alleging, among other things, that they were not promoted because of their race. One of the men on the list is Asst. Chief Ron Rogers. There is only one higher rank in the department, and that is chief. Police Chief Tim Bellamy also happens to be a black man, and a black man has been police chief for all but three out of the last 22 years. It is going to take some fancy legal work to prove that during the less than two-and-a-half years former Police Chief David Wray damaged the careers of all of these men, some of whom he promoted and awarded plum assignments.
Also among the 39 are captains, which is the third highest rank in the department. The men I know who have retired as police captains consider their careers to have been successful. For example, the brother-in-law of News & Record editorial page editor Allen Johnson, William Phifer, retired as a captain, and is one of those who is suing the city.
Then you have some other names on the list of 39 that readers of The Rhino Times will recognize. A.J. Blake, who was recently convicted of assaulting his girlfriend and another woman at a party at the police club, is on the list. Blake has appealed that conviction to Superior Court.
Allen Wallace, John LeGrande and Calvin Stevens are all on the list. They are the officers who, while on duty, picked up two reportedly inebriated women near Club Fifth Season in a police Tactical Special Enforcement Team van, and there was an accusation that some sort of sexual activity took place in the van. Wallace and LeGrande were recommended for termination because of the incident. LeGrande resigned and went to work for the Rockingham Police Department but Wallace's recommendation for dismissal was overturned. However, he was demoted but continues to serve as a Greensboro police officer, as does Stevens.
Stacey Morton, also on the list of 39, allegedly hit a man in handcuffs and was recommended for termination by Wray, who was overruled by former City Manager Mitch Johnson.
Imagine you come down to Greensboro from the Justice Department and you are investigating a report of discrimination in the Police Department. You are representing the US Justice Department and ask for records to determine if there is a case or not. The city basically tells you to jump in a lake, refuses to turn over records and refuses to allow you to interview witnesses. In that case any investigator is going to assume that the city has something to hide. In this case the Justice Department has said that it may have to assume that the information the city is refusing to turn over would shed favorable light on the case of the police officers.