Clarke Morrison, Asheville Citizen-Times, April 1, 2010
The head of Asheville’s NAACP chapter said Wednesday he found no surprise in allegations a city police sergeant sent a racist text message to an officer he supervised.
“It’s the climate that is tolerated at the Asheville Police Department,” said John Hayes, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The department sees the situation differently.
Hayes and Bob Smith, director of the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council, agreed the allegations indicate police could have more work to do in ensuring racial sensitivity.
The claims of a racist text message are made in a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by Officer Cherie Byrd against the city and Sgt. Eric Lauffer, who won a 2008 “officer of the year” award from the city.
In a November 2008 text message, Lauffer said “the election is making me sick” and that “due to recent events: grape soda, red kool-aid, fried chicken, malt liquor, menthol cigarettes and gold teeth will be tax exempt,” according to the lawsuit.
Lauffer also sent her sexually explicit text messages, Byrd said in the lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court.
In keeping with federal law, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reviewed Byrd’s complaint and found she had the right to sue.
The Rev. L.C. Ray, president of the Asheville-based Baptist Ministers Union, urged city leaders to investigate the allegations fully.
“If (the allegations) are true, naturally that would be unacceptable,” Ray said.
Smith said that for years he’s conducted meetings of the council’s law enforcement community relations committee. Police officials and community leaders have attended the meetings to work on fostering better relationships.
“For our law enforcement personnel and all of our leadership, we need to have a better understanding of what sensitivity is all about,” Smith said. “(The alleged comments by Lauffer) just shows there is much work to get done. To make texts like that certainly shows insensitivity to the African-American community.”
Hayes also has been part of meetings over the years intended to create a better relationship between police and blacks in the community.