Five Los Angeles County deputy marshals--two Asians and three Latinos--have asserted in formal complaints that they are the victims of repeated racial slurs by co-workers and superiors and that this "atmosphere of racism" has blocked opportunities for promotion.
In complaints filed earlier this month with the county Civil Service Commission, the deputies allege a "pattern of discriminatory conduct which has long been endured but which can no longer be tolerated."
Deputy Marshal Benjamin Lang, a 15-year veteran who is of Chinese descent, says he has quietly suffered several years of racial taunts by co-workers who routinely refer to him as a "gook" and "chink."
"It's so deeply rooted that they don't even realize it's more than just a joke," Lang said in an interview. "It's degrading. It's humiliating. It doesn't belong in a professional organization like the marshals."
The county marshal's office, which provides security at county courtrooms and protects judges, says it is taking the complaints seriously.
"We are investigating. We will get to the bottom of it," Assistant Marshal Ronald C. Downing said. "If they are true, we will take the appropriate action."
Downing added that while there may be problems with a few individual officers, the department as a whole is not racist.
"This department is a family. These are isolated instances that, if true, will be dealt with."
The complaints, which are scheduled to be heard by the commission next month, demand that the department stop discriminating and pledge its commitment to affirmative action.
But Rees Lloyd, a general counsel to the Chicano Employees Assn. of Los Angeles County, which is representing the five deputy marshals, indicated that his organization will not be satisfied until Marshal Robert F. Mann is replaced.
"We don't want to see lower-level deputies punished while Marshal Mann goes free," Lloyd said. "Mann is responsible for the pattern of racist conduct. He has aided and abetted and condoned this atmosphere."
Mann was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Deputy Marshals Lang and Larry Quan say in their complaints that they have been humiliated and demeaned by anti-Asian slurs from fellow deputy marshals and superiors.
The three Latino deputy marshals--Steve Sandoval, Raul Guevara and Joe Romero--allege that they were the victims of disparaging remarks made last month by a sergeant during a mandatory briefing.
Lang said he nearly came to blows with a deputy marshal two years ago after the co-worker called him a "rice master" and prevented him from entering an elevator. Lang said he has been greeted in the morning by fellow officers who yelled: "Hey Ben, guess what day it is today? Well, it's kill a gook day."
Lang said the final insult came on Sept. 2 when he arrived to work at the marshal's office in the county Traffic Court building downtown. Lang was unaware that earlier that morning, Deputy Marshal Henry Wong had been killed at an Alhambra bar where he was moonlighting.
Lang said he and Wong had a longstanding feud that was well known inside the department. According to the complaint, a few minutes after Lang arrived at work, Deputy Marshal Don Roberts remarked that "We'll, the Lang-Wong feud has now come to an end. . . . Where were you last night, Ben?"
A composite of the alleged gunman ran in local newspapers on Sept. 7. That afternoon, the complaint alleges, Roberts approached Lang and held up next to his face the drawing depicting the likeness of an Asian male suspect.
According to the complaint, Roberts exclaimed: "Everybody, look at this. Doesn't this look like Ben?"
A superior officer, Sgt. C. Redman, allegedly responded: "Yeah, it sure does."
Redman could not be reached for comment. Roberts said: "I'd better hold off any comment because everything is under investigation. I can't comment, but that's not out of a sense of guilt. Quite the opposite."
Quan, a six-year veteran assigned to the judicial protection unit, said he too has tolerated years of disparaging remarks about his race. On Sept. 2, while Quan was on duty at the home of a judge, he grabbed for a piece of pizza left over from the previous shift.
According to the complaint, his supervisor yelled: "Larry, what are you eating? You're supposed to eat egg rolls and chop suey. What's wrong with you?"
Prompted by 1987 Case
Attorney Lloyd said the joint complaint filed by Sandoval, Guevara and Romero has its roots in a 1987 Civil Service Commission case. In that action, the commission agreed that then-Deputy Marshal Ronald Rocha, a Latino, had been wrongly passed over for promotion to sergeant.
In finally promoting Rocha to sergeant, the department agreed to embark on an affirmative-action training program. On Aug. 31, according to the complaint, a white sergeant belittled the training program at a mandatory briefing that included Sandoval, Guevara and Romero.
According to the joint complaint, the sergeant told the group that he was not feeling too well because the previous day had been "terrible." He said he had been forced to attend an affirmative-action training session in Marshal Mann's office.
The sergeant, apparently referring to the Rocha case, then allegedly stated: "If you're black or white, you can forget about being promoted."
The complaint concluded, "The sergeant's actions are part and parcel of a pattern of discrimination by the present marshal which no amount of self-serving rhetoric should be allowed to cover up."