Elgin officer’s suit charges racial discrimination by city, other cops
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org December 28, 2012 9:46AM
Updated: January 31, 2013 6:38AM
ELGIN — A police officer is suing the city and two other officers, accusing them of racial discrimination.
Officer Phil Brown filed the federal lawsuit Thursday against the city, Lt. Sean Rafferty and Elgin Professional Standards Officer Jim Barnes.
The city denies the accusations.
The suit accuses the city “of failing to redress unlawful racial discrimination occurring within the City Police Department, creating and perpetuating a hostile work environment, permitting officers and agents of the city to routinely use racial slurs against African American police officers like (Brown), a sixteen plus year veteran of the Elgin Police Department, treating African American officers like Officer Brown differently on the basis of race and failing to promptly and fully investigate allegations of race discrimination including those made by Plaintiff, resulting in loss of employment opportunities and significant pain and suffering of Plaintiff … ”
Brown also is suing Rafferty and Barnes “for engaging in conduct that each knew constituted race discrimination.”
Brown further claims the city violated the Family and Medical Leave Act.
He is seeking injunctive relief, statutory damages and compensatory damages from the city, Rafferty and Barnes.
“The lawsuit is disappointing and without merit,” Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall said Friday.
The lawsuit builds upon a five-day suspension issued to Rafferty in July 2011 for violating city policy about making race-based jokes after Brown, who was facing a suspension of his own, brought the matter to the city’s attention.
According to an order of suspension issued July 26, 2011, during a trip to Indianapolis in the late 1990s, Rafferty “posed for a picture making a joke about the Ku Klux Klan. Such behavior is unacceptable whether on-duty or off-duty.”
In a second instance, the order states that either in late 2009 or early 2010, Rafferty texted Brown a message and a photo of a photograph asking Brown, “Which one are you?” Rafferty was attending his daughter’s high school basketball game at Glenbard North in Carol Stream, where Brown graduated. The photo was one Rafferty spotted at the school of the baseball squad on which Brown was the only black player.
Brown was on the trip to an Indianapolis Colts football game with Rafferty and a number of other men about 14 years ago when the Klan picture was snapped. In it, Rafferty and another man are standing by a sign making “K” shapes with their hands. The sign marks the Indianapolis Times winning a 1928 Pulitzer Prize for exposing the KKK.
Brown told authorities he came into possession of the photo several years prior to 2011 after someone anonymously left it at his locker at the police station.
Brown went before an arbitrator in June 2011 regarding two prior suspensions of his own.
The first suspension, issued about four years before, initially was supposed to be for five days after it was learned from an FBI wiretap that Brown was associating with a known gang member, sources said.
The second suspension involved Brown facing a 10-day suspension for conduct unbecoming a police officer. The matter stemmed from Brown being charged with a DUI and eluding Bartlett police in an incident that occurred after he attended a wedding reception for a fellow Elgin police officer several years before. Brown later was acquitted of the charges, sources said.
As a result of the arbitration, the suspensions were reduced to just two days, according to sources.
Brown’s federal lawsuit states that in or about 2002, after leaving the department Gang Unit due to discomfort working with Rafferty, Brown was assigned to be the school liaison at Elgin High School. In 2006, it says, Rafferty “instigated an investigation that ultimately involved the FBI, in which he alleged or insinuated in a racially derogatory and false manner that (Brown) was feeding information to gangs at that school.”
The suit notes Brown was placed on desk duty from October 2007 to January 2009 and “lost a significant amount of overtime pay during that period that he would have received if he had been kept in his regular assignment. After the investigation was finally completed (Brown) was not charged with any wrongdoing whatsoever but has continued to be harmed in that being put at a low level job has harmed his opportunity for the kinds of assignments that would advance his career and caused him ongoing emotional distress.”
The lawsuit also claims that in or around January 2011, Brown asked Police Chief Jeff Swoboda to have a photo taken with him while Brown wore a commemorative badge. Swoboda declined because of Brown’s facial hair, the suit says, and claims the chief ordered the badge removed from Brown and placed on a newly hired white officer. That officer later posed with Swoboda and the picture “appeared on the front page of the local newspaper — the Chronicle News,” the suit claims.
The lawsuit says that led Brown “to feel demeaned and humiliated” and that after the photo was published he was taunted and mocked and was so distressed “that he permanently ceased wearing his commemorative badge.”