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Bias alleged in LAPD lawsuit

July 03, 2008|Victoria Kim | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Department engaged in religious discrimination by disciplining an employee for off-duty remarks made about homosexual acts, an LAPD sergeant has alleged in a lawsuit filed against the city and the department.

In a fall 2006 eulogy delivered at a fellow officer's funeral, Sgt. Eric Holyfield, who also is a pastor, said homosexual acts were "sinful" and an "abomination" and would lead to condemnation in hell, or the "lake of fire," if one did not repent, according to a lawsuit he filed June 19 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

After those comments, LAPD passed him up for promotions and pay raises in retaliation, Holyfield alleges in the suit, saying that he was discriminated against for his religion and that his 1st Amendment rights were violated.

Cmdr. Stuart Maislin, head of LAPD's risk-management office, said the department's ability to control an off-duty officer's speech is a "very gray area." But remarks by officers may raise red flags, particularly when bias is expressed against a group of people, Maislin said.

"When it comes to enforcing the law, it has to be done impartially, treating everybody with respect," said Maislin, who declined to comment specifically on Holyfield's case. "We are concerned, clearly, about the type of speech our employees engage in."

Holyfield made the remarks in September 2006 at the Whittier funeral of Officer Nathaniel Warthon Jr., whose family asked the sergeant to deliver a short sermon. Before a large audience in a chapel, Holyfield identified himself as a sergeant and as the fallen officer's supervisor, according to the suit, but was clad in black clergy attire rather than his uniform.

According to the suit, Holyfield quoted Bible passages and elaborated that "men should not lie with men; women should not lie with women. To do so was an abomination or sinful; one must repent or be condemned to hell."

Holyfield, in the suit, said the words came to him through God in prayer and meditation as he prepared for the sermon.

Among those at the funeral was Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, commanding officer of operations in the South Bureau. Beck, named as a defendant, filed a formal complaint against Holyfield after the funeral. The suit alleges that Beck's actions were based on "religious biases."

The suit alleges that as a result of the complaint, Holyfield was removed from his position in community relations, moved back to patrol and passed up for a number of promotions.

Holyfield's supervisor at the time, Capt. James Craig, told Holyfield that his remarks created a "buzz" that went "all the way to the top" of the department, according to the suit. Craig, who is named in the suit, declined to comment.

The department has "historically discriminated . . . and continues to discriminate against officers that cite from the Holy Bible," the suit alleges.

The suit seeks back pay, punitive damages and compensation for distress.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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