Posted on January 18, 2012

Richmond Police Discrimination Suit Goes to Trial

Demian Bulwa, San Francisco Chronicle, January 18, 2012

Seven African American police officers who sued over alleged discrimination on the Richmond force were depicted Tuesday in stark terms, as either victims of the “racial hatred” of superiors or as organizers of a “power play” against a chief they didn’t like.

As attorneys made opening statements in a civil trial in Contra Costa County, half of Richmond’s police command staff listened — Chief Chris Magnus at one table and, on the other side of the room, the seven officers who filed suit in 2007, a year after Magnus was hired.

{snip} Richmond officials say defending the lawsuit has cost $4.3 million so far, with $1.9 million of that covered by insurance.

The day began with an attorney for six of the officers promising to show that Magnus and his co-defendant, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter, both of whom are white, had failed to promote the men, retaliated against them for complaining and insulted them with racist jokes.

“This is a trial about racial discrimination and racial hatred,” said attorney Stephen Jaffe. “This case stirs the echoes of a kind of racism that occurred in the past in the United States.”

A lawyer for Richmond, Magnus and Ritter used equally strong terms in denouncing the suit. He said none of the officers had faced discrimination, and instead had targeted Magnus because he was a white, progressive outsider.


Magnus was hired in January 2006, coming to Richmond from Fargo, N.D. He named Ritter as his second-in-command, raising the ire of the plaintiffs, some of whom wanted the job. {snip}

They [plaintiffs] say Magnus and Ritter, who now lives on the East Coast but was in court Tuesday, revived a legacy of bigotry in the agency. The department undertook court-ordered reforms after a raft of police brutality lawsuits in the early 1980s.

Attorneys for the city told a different story. Far from being a racist, they said, Magnus has mostly promoted nonwhite candidates, including current deputy chiefs Ed Medina, who is Latino, and Allwyn Brown, who is black.

Lawyers for both sides previewed the case’s most contentious subject — a string of episodes in which the plaintiffs claim Magnus and Ritter revealed racism through jokes and slurs.

Magnus has admitted to one offensive comment, in which he asked whether Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery, was “another holiday for shooting people.” Ritter has acknowledged asking Lt. Cleveland Brown, a plaintiff, to dance for a group of law enforcement peers.

But attorneys for the city said they would show that other comments were twisted or fabricated. They said Magnus never referred to a black officer as a “jigaboo,” as the plaintiffs claim, and was not alluding to slavery when he referred to Ritter as “Master of the Universe.”