by Kevin Fagan
Between tales of one police captain dropping to all fours to yell "don't beat me" and black and white commanders angrily proclaiming they were being discriminated against, jurors got a stark depiction Thursday of a Richmond Police Department consumed with racial tensions in 2006 when Chris Magnus took over as chief.
The revelations came as Magnus spent a second day testifying in a Contra Costa County Superior Court trial over a lawsuit claiming he had discriminated against seven high-ranking black officers.
Plaintiffs' attorney Stephen Jaffe tried to make Magnus look like a disconnected leader who revealed racist bents in quips and favoritism, while the chief attempted to portray himself as working to dispel racial tensions that he found when he took the job.
One of the most bizarre moments came when Magnus described an incident in which then-Capt. Cleveland Brown,
Was his dad a football fan? Isn't "Cleveland Brown" a character on Family Guy?
one of the commanders suing him, came into his office to complain that he didn't want then-Capt. Lori Ritter to become deputy chief.
Magnus said Brown had told him he thought Ritter - who, like Magnus, is white and a defendant in the trial - was a racist, and then had pantomimed his displeasure.
"I remember him getting down on all fours and raising up his arms and saying, 'Don't beat me, Miss Lori!' " Magnus said. "It was kind of hard to tell if he was joking or if he was acting out a story.
"I was floored by it," the chief told the jury. However, he added, "that was pretty typical for Cleveland. He was very animated, very loud, very extreme."
He also said Brown had told him that "an African American captain shouldn't have to work for a white female."
In their lawsuit, the black commanders contend it was Magnus who made racist remarks, telling plaintiff Lt. Arnold Threets to imagine Ritter standing over Brown, cracking a whip and telling him to dance.
After the exchange with Brown a few months after Magnus took the job, the chief made Ritter his deputy. He later demoted Brown to lieutenant.
Magnus also described a hellish staff retreat in Napa nine months into his job, in which he tried to get black and white commanders to discuss racial tensions and cliques in the department.
Napa Valley sure can be hellish. I heard there's this one resort in Napa that once served a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at 72 degrees, because it thought that "room temperature" means room temperature in a modern American building not room temperature in a drafty old French chateau.
Instead, he said, Brown and others remained hostile and said they didn't want to cooperate with his new, community-minded policing style.
The chief said he was "upset" by the tenor of the retreat and told his officers that "if you want to engage in bias, engage in cliques, then you need to work somewhere else, or I will make your life a living hell."
The suing commanders have contended that such statements created a racially hostile workplace.
More from The Cleveland Brown Show ... Richmond Confidential reports
Lt. Cleveland Brown testified that he never heard the Richmond police chief or deputy chief use racial slurs, but that they made remarks that were offensive to African Americans.
Former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter “told me to tap dance,” Brown said from the witness stand. “That is racially offensive.” ...
As the defense team has during cross examination of all the plaintiffs, Spellberg delved into the allegations that Magnus made racially-insensitive comments about Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery.
Brown testified that Magnus asked whether Juneteenth was a “holiday for killing people” during a 2006 deployment strategy meeting with several African American police leaders.
Brown said he did not express umbrage at the comment, but interjected to briefly explain what the holiday is and what it celebrates. Another officer wasn’t so diplomatic.
“Lt. Ricky Clark said ‘There goes a lawsuit,” Brown testified.
While it's emotionally grueling to be a black cop in Northern California, it's emotionally distressing to be a white fireman in Buffalo, NY:
Twelve white Buffalo firefighters will get an average of $230,430 each in back pay, pension benefits and damages -- a total of almost $2.77 million -- for emotional distress because the City of Buffalo illegally passed them over for promotions, a state judge has ruled.
The 12 men sued the city in 2007, contending that the city illegally allowed two promotional lists to expire because minority firefighters had fared poorly on civil service exams.
The case was affected by a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said city officials cannot void the results of civil service exams simply because they are afraid of being sued.
The ruling on damages came 15 months after State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek ruled that the city illegally failed to promote based on its 2005 and 2006 tests for racial reasons.
... Margerum was awarded $30,000 for "emotional damages," and Fahey was awarded $25,000. Each of the other firefighters got $20,000 for that.
Depending on his years of service and individual situation, each firefighter also was awarded between $49,859 and $528,706 in "general damages."
... According to Fleming, being passed over for promotions that they had earned was a "nightmare" that caused years of anguish for many of his clients. ...
Fahey said the case pointed to "the true nature of reverse discrimination: When it happens to blacks, everybody is correctly upset about it, but when it happens to whites, nobody cares."
In Michalek's ruling, he said some of the firefighters suffered from emotional distress, depression and self-medication issues. The judge wrote that some of the firefighters lost their enthusiasm for their jobs and became "bitter and cynical" because they felt they had legitimately earned promotions but were illegally passed over.