Veteran Cop Sues Paterson, Police Department

Ed Beeson, Herald News (West Paterson, New Jersey), September 25, 2007

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Officer David Hopper, a 23-year veteran of the force, claims in his federal civil rights suit that, during his tenure as a juvenile division detective, he was “subjected to a regular and pervasive hostile work environment because of his Caucasian race.”

Detective Michael Howe, who is black and who is named as a defendant in the civil suit, allegedly told Hopper that he could not sit on one side of the division’s office because “this side is only for brothers, and you ain’t no brother.”

The civil suit claims that Hopper’s complaints about alleged racism in the department were repeatedly ignored by his commander, Lt. Calvin Swann, who is also black and named as a defendant in the case, and that Howe allegedly said he would use his political connections to avoid trouble.

Lastly, the suit claims that Hopper was punished for speaking out. Two months after he filed formal complaints about alleged racial abuse, Hopper was transferred from the juvenile division to an overnight shift in the Paterson cell block, according to the civil suit.

Hopper’s attorney, Gregg Zeff, called his client’s case proof of an endemic problem in the city’s leadership, where speaking out against leadership is punished and racial splits are developing among rank-and-file personnel.

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His firm, Frost and Zeff of Philadelphia, is also representing current and former police and fire officials in several lawsuits against the city, including one involving police Officer Louis Spagnola, the son of the former police chief, and another involving fire Capt. Andrew Selby, one of the city’s highest-ranking black firefighters.

Hopper’s suit claims that the juvenile division’s mostly black and Hispanic officers repeatedly taunted him with racial epithets, calling him “white boy” and a “white (expletive).”

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Although several police officers are suing the department, the amount of litigation should not be a barometer for department morale, [Steve Olimpio, president of the city’s police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association].said.

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