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Denied Promotion Since '73 : Latino Officer Claims Bias in Inglewood Suit

November 06, 1987|JAMES RAINEY | Times Staff Writer

An Inglewood police lieutenant has filed a federal civil rights suit that claims he was denied a promotion to captain because he is Latino.

David Garza Jr. said this week that he has been unjustly rejected in four attempts at promotion since 1973.

"It's been frustrating," said Garza, 51, a 27-year Inglewood Police Department veteran. "For years I've watched other people being promoted who I think have fewer qualifications."

Garza's lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to order his promotion to captain and demands back pay and benefits for the higher rank. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the city, the Police Department and Police Chief Raymond Johnson.

Other Minority at Top

Jack Ballas, chief assistant city attorney, said the Police Department promotes the most qualified candidates, regardless of race. He pointed out that two of the department's top five employees--Chief Johnson and Capt. James Butts--are black. Police officials refused to comment.

Garza said his long-simmering discontent with promotion practices came to a boil in June, when he applied and failed to receive a promotion to acting captain. He sought the temporary opening created when Capt. Alex Augusta went on leave for medical reasons. But Lt. Les Friesen, an Anglo, was named by Johnson to replace Augusta as the head of the department's special enforcement bureau.

The lawsuit claims that Garza's "white co-workers and other non-Hispanic workers . . . were and are given such preferential treatment, employment opportunities and benefits."

Police officials said Friesen was a more logical choice for the promotion because he was second in command of the special enforcement bureau, which Augusta headed.

But Garza, who supervises a detective division, said he should have been first in line for the position, because he is more qualified and has served seven years longer with the department than Friesen.

Lieutenant 18 Years

Garza, the highest-ranking Latino in the Police Department, said he was the first person to receive a master's degree while on the force. He joined the department in 1960 and has been a lieutenant since 1969.

"He probably went from patrolman to lieutenant in record time," Ballas said. "He reached a real high point . . . real early in his career."

Discrimination by the department has been subtle, Garza said. "I hear (from other employees) that I'm too laid back, that I don't fit the mold," Garza said. "And I think that that is common; that they think Hispanics are all laid back and too easy going.

"There is nothing in my record that indicates anything negative."

Ballas denied that Garza has been held back because of racial stereotypes. He said Garza only recently reported one such incident that occurred more than 15 years ago when a department secretary allegedly said Garza was lazy.

A Fourth Post

Garza and his lawyer suggested that the department could settle the lawsuit by creating a fourth captain's position and promoting Garza to that post.

The city refuses to change long-standing practice to make way for Garza, Ballas said. He said the lieutenant will have an opportunity for advancement if Augusta retires, rather than returning from sick leave.

Garza said he is not a malcontent. "This is difficult for me," he said. "I do like the city and I love the department. It's a very difficult decision that I made."

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