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LAPD Faces Second Racial Bias Suit : Action by Black Officers Also Names Employees Union as a Defendant

August 19, 1995|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the second time in less than four months, a suit was filed Friday against the Los Angeles Police Department accusing it of failing to deal with discrimination against black officers and singling out a Jail Division supervisor for special criticism.

The federal suit, filed on behalf of a black police sergeant and six black civilian detention officers in the Jail Division, accuses the the city, the LAPD and the Police Commission of "condoning overt racism by failing to take decisive action against persons who retaliate against its black officers who have complained about widespread, systematic racism with [the] department."

Unlike the earlier Los Angeles Superior Court suit, Friday's action includes the Service Employees Union, Local 347 as a defendant. The suit says an unidentified union representative "consistently frustrated efforts to pursue charges of racism, often stating, 'There is nothing I can do.' "

The suit calls another defendant--Capt. Michael E. Melton, a supervisor in the Jail Division--"the prototype officer employed by the LAPD whose credo it is to maintain the status quo: blacks on the bottom."

Cmdr. Tim McBride of LAPD's press relations office said Friday that because of the pending litigation, the department could not comment on the suit. McBride said that for the same reason, Melton did not want to respond to the allegations against him. Officials of the union could not be reached for comment.

In 1991, the Christopher Commission--assembled to study the Police Department in the wake of the videotaped beating of Rodney G. King--concluded that racism was widespread in the department and made sweeping recommendations to address the problem.

Although the department insists it is dealing with the issue, recent allegations of audiotaped racial slurs by former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman, a prosecution witness in the O.J. Simpson trial, have raised questions about how far the LAPD has come--and how much further it still must go.

Friday's suit was filed on behalf of Police Sgt. Chester Ross and detention officers Ganiyu Finnih, Joseph F. Funches, Margo A. Peace, Darryl Bundridge, Mark D. Walker and Terrance L. Smith.

The plaintiffs contend that during briefings, Melton made comments like, "All you black officers better stop throwing those spears at me." They said Melton's "vile" attitude toward blacks "permeated the workplace" and was adopted by several white members of his staff.

Ross is one of several officers who submitted affidavits supporting allegations against Melton in the suit filed last May by Sgt. William J. Wimberley, a veteran LAPD officer currently on leave from his Jail Division duties for what are described as service-incurred back injuries.

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