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Black Capitol police suit back in court
By Askia Muhammad
White House Correspondent
Updated Dec 9, 2003 - 4:15:00 PM

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WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - Black officers in yet another federal law enforcement branch are returning to court in order to settle racial discrimination allegations against their employer.

Attorneys representing more than 350 Black U.S. Capitol police officers headed back to court Dec. 5, pursuing their two-year-old discrimination lawsuit after 11 months of fruitless settlement negotiations.

"It is unfortunate that nearly a year of valuable time and significant client funds were wasted after Defendant’s in-house counsel professed a desire to settle this case" in January 2003, attorneys Joseph Gebhardt and Nathaniel Johnson wrote in a letter Nov. 14 to a U.S. District Judge, requesting a hearing in order to return their case to the active litigation calendar, according to a published report.

They say the U.S. Attorney’s office has dragged its feet, and that the Capitol Police Department refuses to provide any payments to the numerous active and retired officers. They allege that the department also refuses to create an oversight board to monitor the settlement reached in any agreement, and refuses to provide a forum for the officers, the Capitol Police Board and its Chief to hold quarterly meetings "in order to engage in high level discussions on ending discrimination and retaliation."

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, which represents the Capitol Police Board, declined to comment on the case because it is still being adjudicated.

The U.S. Attorney’s office did file a motion in 2002 seeking to dismiss the case entirely, citing the 1995 law which supposedly protected legislative branch employees under 11 civil rights workplace and anti-discrimination laws. Until the 1995 law took effect, Congress had exempted itself from most provisions of the civil rights laws it requires private-sector employers and even other government agencies, to obey.

This action by Black Capitol police officers is not the first such case. During the last 20 years, Blacks in every single federal law enforcement branch have filed class action suits alleging racial discrimination in promotions, discipline, awards, assignments, hiring, terminations, performance evaluations, training assignments, hostile work environment, and retaliation against them for their equal employment opportunity activities.

A similar class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court recently against the Secret Service. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) settled class-action racial discrimination cases during the 1990s, but ATF agents went back to court last year, claiming that the federal government had refused to make all agreed-upon payments to the Black officers.

"With little or no positive and unbiased recruitment of African American males and females and other minorities, the Capitol Police will continue to be a modern day version of a 19th Century Southern Plantation in law enforcement," the original 47-page Black Capitol police complaint said. The horror-story-laden lawsuit includes accounts from long-time veteran officers.

"You have, basically, a renegade police department up here, that’s been operating under the protection of Congress," Charles J. Ware, the attorney who first represented the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association, said at the time the suit was announced.

The complaint alleges that officers have been denied promotions because of their race or sex, that the officers were subjected to a hostile work environment, that some officers were wrongly fired and some were subjected to sexual harassment. "The Chief, Deputy Chief and the assistant chiefs, are all White males, and (are) all involved in this conspiracy of protecting their fiefdom, for up-and-coming White males," said Mr. Ware.

At the time the lawsuit was first filed two years ago, one veteran Black officer told The Final Call that whenever he sought a promotion, bogus charges would be filed against him in order to clutter up his personnel file, although no charge has ever been substantiated against him.

"The Capitol police force has proven over and over that it is capable of intimidation, reprisal; that’s part of our complaint," said Mr. Ware. "That’s part of the hostile work environment that has persisted in the Capitol Police Department that has persisted forever, going back to the first time that the first Black person became a police officer. To the extent that there is reprisal and intimidation, they only serve to make our case. We expect that. That’s what we’re suing for. That’s part of the problem."

The force has 1,200 members, of whom 357 (or 29 percent) are Black, according to the complaint. In the higher ranks—detective and above—Blacks hold 32 of 244 slots (or 13 percent), which is down from 16 percent of those slots held by Blacks in 1993.


 


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