Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2013
A jury Tuesday ordered the city of Los Angeles to pay $1.2 million to a black police officer who alleged he was the butt of vulgar racial harassment by a white supervisor and other officers.
In his lawsuit, Earl Wright, who joined the department in 1989, accused the supervisor, Sgt. Peter Foster, and a handful of officers of carrying out racial pranks and making comments that left him “embarrassed and humiliated.”
In one instance, the lawsuit claimed, Wright asked Foster for permission to leave work early and Foster, who is white, responded, “Why? You gotta go pick watermelons?”
In another incident, Foster summoned Wright and his partner back in to the station from the field to celebrate Wright’s 20th year of service as an LAPD officer. With officers laughing and applauding, the lawsuit claimed, Foster then presented Wright with a cake that was topped with a piece of fried chicken and a slice of watermelon.
Wright said in court documents that supervisors throughout the Central Division station where he and Foster worked, including the captain who ran the division at the time, were aware of the crass behavior and did not stop it.
During the four-day trial, however, lawyers for the city tried to portray Wright not as a victim, but as a willing participant.
For example, Officer Randall McCain, who is black, testified that it was he, not Foster, who bought and presented the cake to Wright.
In an interview, McCain reiterated what he said at the trial–that Wright laughed when he saw the cake, cut himself a slice, and ate the chicken topping.
He and Wright, McCain said, were part of a group of officers at Central Division who routinely traded crude racial text messages and comments.
“I have known Earl Wright for 15, 16 years; we worked together for the past five. And Earl Wright has joked, pulled pranks and talked about other races in a joking way just like the rest of us,” McCain said. “Everything this guy is claiming was done to him, he did himself. He lied about the way he was feeling.”