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Jury Finds Black Richmond Officers Were Not Discriminated Against by Chief

| April 10, 2012
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Update 1:50 p.m. Report from Richmond Confidential

Police Chief Chris Magnus, retired Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city of Richmond were cleared by a Contra Costa County jury on Tuesday of racial discrimination and harassment charges.

Seven high-ranking African American police officials had sought damages of around $18 million for what they alleged were a series of racial digs as well as systemic discrimination by Magnus and Ritter, both of whom are white. Full report

Read more of Richmond Confidential’s copious reporting on the case here

KQED’s Cy Musiker also spoke to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Lee, who has been covering the case.

In February, KQED’s Nina Thorsen talked to reporter Kevin Fagan of the Chronicle, who’s been covering the case in which Chief Chris Magnus, who is white and gay, was sued by eight African-American commanding officers for racial discrimination. The officers claimed that Magnus passed them over for promotion because of racial bias.

Fagan gave the following background on the case:

Chief Magnus was from Fargo North Dakota. He had the nickname there of “Mr. Diversity.” He’d been there for several years and been a cop for 20 years before that just across the border in Minnesota.

He was known as a guy who liked to be a conciliator of his staff, and a proponent of community policing.

When Richmond went looking for a police chief, they wanted to take another stab at community policing. They’d had a chief who’d come over from Oakland years before who’d tried it to mixed success. But the city had such engrained problems with violent crime and poverty that city leaders really thought community policing was the way to go.

Magnus is white and he’s gay, and he’s from Dakota. So when he shows up there apparently were some culture clashes. There was an engrained culture at the department. But he wants to put his own stamp on things, and there was some resistance. And, depending on which side is talking, there were racist eruptions in conversation and work conduct.

It’s a little tough to read into what documentation exists in this case. There are a bunch of emails and memos that when you look at them, you can take them a couple of different ways. It’s a tricky one, because there’s some outrageous allegations that make both sides look pretty bad. There’s an accusation that Magnus made some callous crack abut Juneteenth, for instance, when he said “isn’t that a day where people shoot each other?” He says the crack was made in the context of talking about holidays during which violence had occurred.

What you often see in a race-related trial is that you’re reading between the lines a lot, unless there is something overt like a racial epithet. That doesn’t seem to be the case here; no one called anyone the N word. There was an accusation early on that the word ‘jigaboo’ was used, but that has been denied. So we’re left with a lot of he said/she said.

The plaintiffs are asking for monetary relief and something in the way of promotions they think are due. There are seven black commanding officers who are suing, each of them has been there a long time, and they thought they were passed over for racist reasons.

When Chief Magnus first arrived in 2006, after a few months he promoted the only white female on the staff and a Latino man to deputy chief. In a heavily black city like Richmond, the plaintiffs say, you should have some black representation in your top command. The chief says he just wanted the most qualified people and that he was promoting diversity by having a woman and a Latino as his second in command.

The chief also says there are people in the department who were resistant to change. He described a staff retreat he held that sounded pretty bad, with everyone yelling at each other. A white officer got up and said whites are discriminated against, a black officer said blacks are discriminated against. The chief says that some of his command said ‘we’re not going to change, you can come in and try to change the game all you want, but we know how we do things here in Richmond and that’s that.’ The other side says this guy comes in from outside and wants to change what we do here, what does he know? Not a happy sounding situation.

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Category: Law Enforcement, Legal, Racial Issues

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