A federal judge on Wednesday began hearing a discrimination suit filed against the Glendale Police Department by a Latino officer who alleges he was passed over five times for a promotion to sergeant because of racism.
The suit also seeks to prove that the department fosters bias by allowing what some officers considered to be racist cartoons and flyers to be displayed in work areas. Those cartoons are expected to be important evidence in the trial.
Ricardo L. Jauregui, 38, is seeking the promotion and an undetermined amount of back pay at the sergeant's level. His suit, filed last year, also seeks an order that the Police Department stop discriminating against minorities and women.
In an opening statement before U. S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian Jr. in downtown Los Angeles, Scott Howard, Glendale assistant city attorney, said that Jauregui's behavior, not discrimination, kept the officer from being promoted. "He had a reputation for being abusive, rude, arrogant and challenging to authority," Howard said.
Jauregui's attorney, David Alkire, waived opening arguments. His first witness was James D. (J. D.) Smith, the presiding judge of the Glendale Municipal Court, who testified that he had never known Jauregui to be rude or abusive.
In testimony, Jauregui said an extensive collection of commendations, news clippings and letters from the public should prove that he has a good record.
Alkire, in an interview earlier in the week, said he will support his claim of widespread racism in the police force by presenting as evidence several flyers and cartoons that black police officers said they had removed from the walls and bulletin boards of the department over the last six years.
"The materials show what is going on. The cartoons, which are fairly despicable, were placed on the walls, and no one was ever disciplined for doing it," Alkire said.
One cartoon depicted two apes with the photos of black Glendale police officers superimposed on the apes' faces and a caption urging people to adopt the animals. The cartoon was drawn by Sgt. Randall Tampa in 1983 and was displayed in the narcotics office, Chief David Thompson said in a deposition submitted for the trial. Tampa, a white officer, was a member of the department's affirmative action board, according to the chief.
A flyer also allegedly distributed throughout the Police Department talked about hunting season and said it was "open season on South Western Wetbacks (known locally as Mexican, Greaser, Greaseball, Spic, Mex or low rider)."
The three black officers who provided the cartoons and flyers are not part of Jauregui's suit, which is not a class-action suit, and refused to submit the materials until they were subpoenaed by Alkire.
The trio said they saved the material in case they needed it later. They said in depositions that they fear that their testimony and their collecting of the flyers and cartoons may cost them their jobs and increase racial tension. They said, nevertheless, that there has been a series of racist incidents over the last six years.
In an interview, Howard called the cartoon and flyers "humor." He said the flyers were never even shown to high-ranking police officials, but that the cartoon with the ape theme was shown to them. Referring to Jauregui, Howard said, "If he wants to show rampant discrimination within the department, it's not going to work that way."
Chief Thompson, in a deposition, said he "chewed out" Sgt. Tampa for drawing the cartoon but did not resort to any further discipline because the black officers told him they did not find it offensive.
In his deposition, Justus Knight, one of the black officers, said the cartoon was offensive, but he did not file a grievance because he believed doing so would mean "you would not get desirable transfers or promotions."
Ronald E. Jenkins, who became the city's first black police officer in 1979, said in a deposition that an anonymous caller told him last year, "If you testify, you die."
In the deposition, Jenkins also said he had to be restrained from fighting three other officers when he went to a 1980 party at a police officer's house and found his colleagues had burned a cross to welcome him.
"This was supposed to be a jest, but I didn't find it funny," Jenkins said in the deposition.
Jauregui, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, was hired in 1973. He alleges he has been passed over for promotion to sergeant five times since 1980, even though he was at or near the top of a list of qualified candidates, his attorney said. He is now on special duty as an investigator.
Thompson declined to be interviewed about the suit, but said in a January deposition that the department had received several complaints about Jauregui's behavior. Jauregui, according to the chief, was "wrapped up in his own self-importance."