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Dismissed Officer Accuses LAPD of Bias, Files Suit

March 22, 1994|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alleging that the Los Angeles Police Department discriminated against him in a disciplinary hearing because he is black, a former LAPD officer announced Monday that he has filed a federal lawsuit to regain his job and to stop what he says is unfair treatment of African American and other minority officers by the LAPD.

"I just want fair treatment as far as African American officers are concerned," said Philip Wilkes, who was an LAPD officer for four years until last March, when he was fired for conduct that a police disciplinary panel concluded was unbecoming a police officer. "We have to stop being treated as second-class citizens."

Wilkes--who was found guilty by a police Board of Rights of failing to pay child support, lying on a court form, violating a court order and becoming involved in a domestic dispute--maintains that the LAPD disciplinary system was particularly hard on him because he is black. Wilkes was fired from the department on March 18, 1993.

"African American and Latino officers have to adhere to a higher standard than white officers," Wilkes said.

All the charges against Wilkes grew out of a dispute with his girlfriend and none directly involved his work as a police officer. Similar charges against white officers have not resulted in such severe discipline, he said, though he and his lawyer, B. Kwaku Duren, conceded that they do not have statistical information to back up that claim.

Accompanied by Duren and other supporters, Wilkes announced the filing of the lawsuit at a news conference in front of the LAPD's Parker Center headquarters. A few police officers looked on, but department officials declined comment on the case.

Gary Greenebaum, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, also declined comment on the Wilkes case, but said he has never seen any evidence that the department's disciplinary system is biased against minority officers.

"I've heard that stated before," Greenebaum said. "But I've never seen consistent evidence that would support the argument that there's a pattern. . . . I do not feel that I have seen any evidence of systematic racism or discrimination against minority officers."

In 1992, the Christopher Commission studied the LAPD and concluded, among other things, that the department's failure to punish the perpetrators of racist acts "conveys to minority and non-minority officers alike the message that such conduct is in practice condoned or tolerated by the department, notwithstanding its stated policies to the contrary."

The Christopher Commission did not, however, report any findings about discrimination in the disciplinary process.

At the press conference, Duren acknowledged that he does not have statistical evidence showing that such discrimination exists in the disciplinary process, but said he will ask the city to supply statistical data as part of the suit.

"That's what the discovery process is designed (for)," Duren said. LAPD disciplinary decisions take into account more than just the charges against the accused officer, a fact that makes it difficult to compare cases. An officer's entire professional history may be reviewed by a disciplinary board to determine how serious a penalty is warranted.

Wilkes said Monday that he was never suspended while with the LAPD. In his lawsuit, he is described as a "very competent police officer with good work habits."

Wilkes is seeking reinstatement to the Police Department, along with back pay for the past year.

No trial date has been set.

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