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$800-Million Civil Rights Suit Filed Against City of Lynwood

Courts: Three Latino council members are named in allegations of discriminatory practices against black contractors and city workers. They deny the charges.

August 13, 1998|JACK LEONARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Alleging discrimination against blacks, three African American contractors have filed an $800-million civil rights lawsuit against the city of Lynwood and three Latino council members, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

The suit, filed Monday, alleges that Mayor Armando Rea, Mayor Pro Tem Arturo Reyes and Councilman Ricardo Sanchez ended city contracts with black-run organizations and sought to fire, demote or transfer black employees in city management.

"If you start putting together all the pieces of the puzzle, you'll see there is one pattern running through it," said Burton C. Jacobson, an attorney for the plaintiffs. "Who gets the ax every time? Black people."

Rea said he and the other two council members named in the suit have never discriminated against blacks.

"There is no color on my council," he said.

Other city officials declined to talk about the legal action.

The suit comes eight months after city elections that saw the complexion of the five-member council change from mostly black to mostly Latino.

Among other claims, the suit alleges that Rea, Reyes and Sanchez used their new power to terminate city contracts with three longtime city contractors, which were run by the African Americans plaintiffs in the suit.

The three contractors include Rapid Publishing Inc., a firm headed by O. Ray Watkins that published official articles paid for by the city; Project Impact, an organization led by the Rev. Matthew Harris that provided counseling and job-training services for Lynwood residents, and California Western Arborist, a company run by Lee Duncan that trimmed the city's trees.

The suit alleges that the Latino council members, in their first political action after their election last year, called a special meeting for Dec. 9 and--with one of the two African American council members absent--voted to terminate contracts with Rapid Publishing and California Western Arborist. The council axed Project Impact's contract in March.

The suit says that council members gave no justification for their decisions.

The suit also accuses Rea of calling a black council member, Louis Byrd, "a little animal" and of referring to African Americans as "spades." Rea on Wednesday denied ever using racial epithets against blacks and said the remarks were taken out of context.

The remarks reportedly were made during a July 7 council meeting. According to an article published in the Lynwood Journal, which is owned by Rapid Publishing, Rea told Byrd that, unlike Byrd, he had sat quietly while African Americans dominated the council.

"It's amazing how you get up and just jump up and down," Rea said. "You jump up and down like a little animal here. It's true, it's true. I say it like it is. I call a spade a spade. I say it like it is."

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