CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Two Cincinnati City Council members and community groups are calling for a zero-tolerance policy for officers and other city employees who say the N-word and other racial slurs on the job.
Council Member Tamaya Dennard is introducing a motion that would allow the city to fire employees upon the first offense. This comes after two police officers were captured on body camera video saying the N-word during responses: Donte Hill and Dennis Barnette.
“We know that police have an incredibly hard job every single day and we are grateful for the service that they provide. But to be clear, that service is to protect and serve our entire city. And if you can’t do that in a way that is fair, you shouldn’t be a police officer,” Dennard said.
“You can’t legislate someone’s heart. And oftentimes, we don’t know what’s in someone’s heart. But in the case of Officer Barnette, what was in his heart came out of his mouth. And not just him, but other officers who came before him. And while we can’t legislate what’s in someone’s heart, we can work on policy.”
The current policy suspends workers without pay 40 hours and requires them to undergo sensitivity training. A second offense results in termination.
Police Chief Eliot Isaac, Mayor John Cranley and other city officials have said this type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
They held their own news conference last week to announce the city’s new policy for all employees, not just police, who may utter racial slurs.
Duhaney said he noticed many office policies didn’t have strong or clear discipline requirements. He revised the policy in October, covering misbehavior to make it clear what is expected of employees and supervisors.
He said he feels the policy now has fair discipline’ that would hold up in court.
They also announced all city employees will receive cultural competency and bias training, not just police recruits.
Dennard is calling for that training to be ongoing, not just a one-time thing.
These issues will all be discussed Friday in a special Cincinnati City Council Law and Public Safety Committee.
City and police administrators are expected to make presentations on the topic including the policies and regulations on the use of prejudiced language and hate speech by on-duty city staff, training offered by the city to address cultural sensitivity and the overall efforts the city is making “to eliminate this type of incendiary conduct,” Duhaney wrote council members in a Jan. 3 email.
“What we shouldn’t do is allow get out of jail free cards for saying racial terms, racial slurs in our city and essentially that’s what they are proposing,” Dennard said. "They say they fear lawsuits if this happens.
“Rightfully so, the financial well being of our city, but because being black to so important to so many people, their identity, because respect people regardless of race is so important, for me, I’m willing to take the city bankrupt so that people have the right to have their heads held high and feel like they are being protected and served by the taxes that they pay. If it means bankrupting the city, I’m on record saying so be it."
Young said he hopes Dennard changes her motion to include all city workers. He said it’s been a constant fight in his entire lifetime to get respect for African Americans in this city, let alone in this country.
Every time he thinks they have taken a step forward, it appears they take two steps back.
Young, a retired Cincinnati police officer, said this is not the first occasion in his time with the city the use of this word by police officers has come up.
“We’ve all heard it before. But each time we think it’s been addressed in a way it shouldn’t happen again and it happens again," he said.
"I can tell you that it isn’t OK for any person in authority - and I would prefer no one period - but no one in authority who is paid by the taxpayers in my opinion has the right to insult the people who pay them. If they cannot treat the public with respect, they should not be paid with taxpayer money.”
In response to Thursday’s press conference, FOP President Sgt. Dan Hils released a statement, “The use of racial slurs is indefensible. What the FOP will defend is due process, reasonableness and equity in discipline, and a process free of political grandstanding."
Councilman David Mann, who attended the mayor’s press conference last week, said the city may not have the legal power to fire an employee on the first offense.
“There are all sorts of due process rules that apply to city employees so we anything we do will be reviewed by a judge for sure and maybe an arbitrator,” he said.
He also said he believes in second chances.
“Imperfect as I am, I hope that we will believe in redemption of anyone and I think if we have this one strike and you’re out we are going to lose people that if we give them a chance to redeem themselves will turn out to be great officers by any standard.”
Barnette was put on desk duty and stripped of his police powers following a Dec. 23 incident outside a Roselawn nightclub.
An African American woman he was arresting resisted and pushed him, according to a Dec. 26 email from Police Chief Eliot Isaac to City Manager Patrick Duhaney.
An internal investigation is ongoing.
A few days later, it emerged that another officer, Hill, also used the racial slur on the job back on Sept. 26.
But he was just given a written reprimand.
Hill is black.
Barnette is white.
An internal investigator brought the disparate discipline to Police Chief Eliot Isaac’s attention on Dec. 27, according to an email from the chief to the city manager.
The chief said he suspended Hill’s powers and launched an internal investigation into that, too. He explained the situation as the result of Hill’s case being miscategorized by other police officials.
“The matter was investigated by District supervision and not the Internal Investigations Section(IIS). District Three recommended a written reprimand for the violation. The reprimand was approved through the chain of command and a form 17 memo was presented to me on 10-23-18, where I approved the recommended 1.06B violation of the department’s Manual of Rules and Regulations as recommended in the memo,” Isaac wrote in explanation.
“However, it was brought my attention yesterday by a member of the IIS team that Officer Hill’s conduct was as egregious as Officer Barnette’s and that I needed to view the Body Worn Camera footage. After viewing the footage, I agreed and determined the 1.06B violation was not appropriate. The charge should have been a 1.23C violation and violation of city Admin. Regulations; additionally the matter should have been investigated by IIS.”
FOX19 NOW has a public records request in for all documents related to both officers' discipline and their personnel files and will update our coverage once the police department releases them.
Dennard and Young are not the only ones calling for the dismissal of the most recent officer to use the slur.
On Wednesday, an organization of African American attorneys sent a letter to the chief requesting Barnette’s termination.
The Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati joins the Cincinnati NAACP and Black United Front in that sentiment.
The group’s leader, Donyette Bailey, also stood with Dennard and Young at the news conference.
“Racism," she said,, “is a cancer we must fight because when you don’t fight it, it spreads and kills us all."
She said the group opposes any officer using racial slurs.
But their letter to the chief only asks for the white officer to be fired, not the black one.
“We weren’t made aware of that situation at the time or else we would have commented and responded at that time,” Bailey said. "We stand behind our letter: Zero tolerance for any officer who uses a racial slur is what is required.”