Officers sue Everett PD for race discrimination
EVERETT - The Everett Police Department is being sued by two officers and one retired officer who claim they were denied promotions because of their race.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Jan. 8. The officers say they were consistently passed over for promotions given to white officers who ranked lower than them in the promotion order.
Former Sgt. Rick Wolfington, Sgt. Manny Garcia and officer Sherman Mah filed the lawsuit against the city, Police Chief Kathy Atwood and Capt. David Fudge. The lawsuit asks for a jury trial.
Garcia, Mah and Wolfington all ranked higher than the white officers who were promoted from within instead of them.
Wolfington, who is an American Indian, said he had to quit his job last February after 20 years with the force because of a hostile work environment. Wolfington claims his mistreatment caused him health problems, according to court documents.
Wolfington also alleges Fudge tried to retaliate against him when he complained that Fudge was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate female police officer, court documents state.
Mah, who joined the department in 1995, wrote in court documents that he was repeatedly skipped over for promotions because of his race. Mah is Asian American.
Garcia, who was born in Mexico, claims he was unfairly treated during a trial run period when he was temporarily promoted to lieutenant after which he was inexplicably demoted back to sergeant after the trial run.
He claims Fudge more or less tried to sabotage his performance reviews.
Garcia said in court documents he also was “subjected to numerous derogatory comments about his race, ethnicity and national origin” with no response from higher-ups when he complained.
All three say their civil rights were violated and allege the city did not try to investigate their complaints.
The city plans to defend itself, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said in a prepared statement.
The officers filed a damage claim to the city Oct. 10, which was thrown out.
“The city investigated the plaintiffs’ allegations and determined they were without merit,” the city said in a statement, adding, “It is important to underscore that the Everett Police Department’s core values include integrity, professionalism and honor, and the Department is dedicated to providing a supportive, nondiscriminatory work environment. The Department uses fair processes for employee evaluations and for advancement to ensure that our most capable and effective officer leaders are promoted,” the city said in a statement.
Garcia says he is the department’s first Hispanic and bilingual officer since joining the force in 1988. He is a positive public face for the department as the leader of the annual summer Casino Road Futbol Academy. The academy draws on Garcia’s experience as a former professional soccer player to engage low-income and minority kids with a weeklong soccer camp. The department highlights the camp each year as a public relations point of pride.
Internally, though, according to court papers, he was told to not show up at National Night Out events in rich neighborhoods but instead go to “an event sponsored by a Hispanic community group,” the Herald reported.
Garcia was ranked first for promotion within the department in 2010 but was passed over for a white sergeant who ranked third.
In 2011, Garcia was temporarily promoted to lieutenant for the standard six-month probation period, which was reportedly tenuous. The officers’ attorney wrote that during the probation period Fudge treated Garcia more harshly than other officers were treated during this period.
Atwood knew “Garcia’s work history and good performance, his longtime work dedicated to improving the Everett PD’s relationship with the minority community, his promotion to lieutenant, and his complaints of unequal treatment by Fudge,” court documents state. “Atwood approved Fudge’s recommendation to demote Garcia without further inquiry or any investigation.”
Garcia said in court documents that he is the only officer in at least the past two decades to be instantly demoted after his probationary period ended.
During Mah’s attempts to be promoted to sergeant while ranked second in the promotion order, the department promoted four different white officers during 2010 and 2011, court documents state. Mah had sought a promotion for 15 years.
The department also traditionally appoints officers to higher ranks during trial runs, but “he was never asked, offered, or placed into such an appointment,” according to the lawsuit. When he formally asked to be promoted to acting sergeant to Atwood and Fudge, Fudge denied the request nine months later and Atwood instead promoted a white officer, court documents state.
That particular officer failed his sergeant’s examination multiple times, court documents state.
In a separate instance, Wolfington alleges that a white sergeant was promoted to acting lieutenant over him even though that sergeant did not seek promotion. Garcia was on the same ranking list at the same time as Wolfington.
The officers are being represented by Victoria Vreeland, a highly respected Bellevue civil rights attorney.
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