March 11, 2012

Ithaca Police Department Sued for Racial Discrimination

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A second white officer filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit last month alleging that the Ithaca Police Department committed racial discrimination. Sgt. Douglas Wright’s suit follows a separate lawsuit by Chris Miller, a white officer who also said he was the victim of discrimination by the IPD.Wright’s lawsuit comes in the midst of an investigation into allegations — which stem from Miller’s discrimination claims — that Lt. Marlon Byrd, a black officer, aided drug dealers.Amid the lawsuits and the drug investigation, the police officers’ union, the Police Benevolent Association, will hold a vote of no confidence in IPD’s leadership on Tuesday, according to The Ithaca Journal.Wright, the officer who filed last month’s lawsuit, alleges that he was unfairly passed over for promotions twice. In both instances, he says, a black officer was promoted instead of him because of his race. Wright is seeking $10.5 million from the lawsuit’s defendants, who include the IPD, former Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson and other city officials.“The defendants unfairly and routinely endorse, support and believe the word of African-American and minority employees over that of [Wright] and male Caucasian employees,” the lawsuit states.In the lawsuit, Wright — who joined the IPD in 1992 and was promoted to sergeant in 1999 — cites two incidents in which he was eligible for promotion to lieutenant but saw a black officer receive the promotion instead.Wright alleges in the suit that in 2007, he was passed over for Pete Tyler, a black officer who is now deputy chief. In 2009, Wright was eligible for promotion again, but was passed over for Byrd, the lawsuit states.“Byrd was promoted even though [Chief of Police Ed] Vallely and Deputy Chief [John] Barber both had information and evidence of serious criminal allegations which they failed to investigate. The decision to promote Byrd over [Wright] was based on race,” the lawsuit states, referring to the allegations that Byrd aided drug dealers.Those allegations come from an ongoing arbitration related to Miller’s accusation that he is the victim of racial discrimination. In the arbitration, several witnesses testified under oath that Byrd gave narcotics dealers information about pending drug investigationss, according to documents in the arbitration.Although Vallely reviewed the allegations against Byrd and cleared him of any wrongdoing in 2008, testimony from Officer Bob Brotherton in July suggested high-ranking IPD officers began avoiding working with Byrd out of fear he would tip off drug dealers to the times and locations police would be conducting busts, The Sun reported in February.Shortly before Byrd’s promotion, Wright says he was called into Vallely’s office, where, according to the lawsuit, Vallely told Wright that Vallely needed to “show clear and convincing evidence why [Wright was] a better candidate,” or else the chief was going to promote Byrd. This decision was made, the suit alleges, even though Vallely and Barber had information relating to the drug allegations against Byrd which they failed to investigate before promoting Byrd.Wright is alleging that racial discrimination in IPD goes beyond the promotions of Tyler and Byrd.The lawsuit claims that IPD’s racial discrimination extends to “hiring, promotions, discipline, retention, training, assignments and investigations into misconduct.”The lawsuit also says that racial discrimination could play a part in the selection of Ithaca’s next police chief. The document states that “Barber has even acknowledged to [Wright] that he will never make Chief of Police if his minority peer, Deputy Chief Tyler, seeks promotion to Chief of Police.”Though the IPD could not be reached for comment Sunday night, defendants in the Miller case — Vallely, Barber and Tyler — successfully convinced the judge in that case to dismiss the race-based discrimination claims, including the claim that there is a hostile work environment at IPD, in 2010.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst