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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Worker Sues Oxnard Police

Disabled Man Says He Was Target of Discrimination

May 27, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — At age 23, Glenn McIntyre thought his days as a police officer were over after a drunk driver slammed into his car, taking away his ability to walk.

But he battled back from the off-duty accident and went back to work--as a non-sworn officer for the same department.

And for more than a decade, McIntyre has worked for the Oxnard Police Department from his wheelchair, taking reports and assisting the public as a non-sworn employee. But now, McIntyre is suing the department, claiming discrimination.

McIntyre, 38, who has worked the front counter at the department since 1986, said he has been openly ridiculed because of his disability and that requests to make the department handicapped-accessible have been repeatedly ignored.

"You're supposed to look at a person for their ability," said McIntyre, who went on leave in March 1998 because of medical problems he says are referred to in his suit. "They couldn't look beyond my disability. They just saw what I couldn't do."

Chief Art Lopez, who is named in the suit, acknowledged some of the problems and said his department wants to work something out for McIntyre.

"We recognize there are some [Americans with Disabilities Act] issues and we're trying to facilitate something so that he can come back," Lopez said. "We are not his enemy. We want do the right thing."

For years, McIntyre said Friday, department officials were supportive, and he even credits the department for helping him turn his life around after the accident. But that treatment steadily deteriorated after a turnover among top administrators, the suit alleges, and some co-workers became increasingly hostile.

Defendants in the suit, filed Friday in Ventura County Superior Court, are the city of Oxnard, the Police Department, Lopez, former Chief Harold Hurtt, Assistant Chief Stan Myers and City Manager Ed Sotelo.

In an interview Friday, McIntyre recalled sinking into a deep depression after the 1985 accident.

But an offer by then Chief Robert Owens gave him hope.

"He said, 'When you coming back to work?' " McIntyre said. "That really gave me something to hang onto."

McIntyre said the chief offered to make him a teleserve officer, a non-sworn position responsible for taking reports from the public. As McIntyre struggled through recovery, fellow officers donated 1,800 hours of vacation time to support him while he underwent months of rehabilitation.

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By October 1986, McIntyre was back on the job. He may have been in a wheelchair, but dressed in his dark blue uniform, his revolver at his side, McIntyre said he felt like he was a member of the department once again.

And for years, McIntyre said he excelled in his new position--even once being named employee of the year.

But everything changed after Owens retired in 1993, McIntyre contends.

"I was warned after the chief retired by some commanders and sergeants that some in the department never wanted a person with a disability in uniform," McIntyre said. "They said it shows the wrong image. It's not the macho image they want."

Over the years, small things began to add up to a continuing pattern of discrimination, said McIntyre and his attorney, Dan Stormer of Pasadena.

He was forbidden from parking in one of the station's handicapped spaces near the front entrance, told instead to park in an employee parking space in the back of the building, McIntyre said.

Snide comments about his disability were increasingly common, McIntyre said.

Eventually McIntyre was ordered to turn in his weapon, the suit said.

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Then he was stripped of his dark blue uniform, commonly worn by other non-sworn officers, McIntyre said. He was ordered instead to put on a light blue uniform worn by cadets.

"Clearly they were intending to insult him," Stormer said. "There's no other purpose for that than to insult him."

But the biggest blow, McIntyre said, was the department's refusal to fix the door that separates the lobby area from the front office. The door is bolted and requires a clerk from behind the counter to press a button to let someone in.

McIntyre, as part of his job, said he often entered the lobby area to help the public. But clerks usually could not see him as he approached the door for reentry, and he took to knocking to alert someone of his presence, he said.

The knocking, however, became an annoyance to some of the clerks, McIntyre said. Especially since he had to travel back and forth between the lobby and the inner office as much as 50 times a day--including any time he needed to use the bathroom, since only the public restroom was wheelchair accessible, he said.

McIntyre was given a key to let himself in and out--a difficult task, the suit said, requiring him to turn the key with one hand, while simultaneously opening the door and rolling his chair back.

Still, he tried to work with the key for over two years before the struggle to constantly open the door left him with "sharp piercing pain" in his shoulder, requiring surgery, McIntyre said.

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