2 Cincinnati police officers who said ‘n-word’ begin 7-day suspensions

2 Cincinnati police officers who said ‘n-word’ begin 7-day suspensions
FOX19 NOW/file

CINCINNATI, Ohio (FOX19) - Two Cincinnati police officers who used the “n-word” to refer to black citizens during responses last year are serving 7-day suspensions, their lawyer confirmed Thursday.

Donte Hill, who is black, used the racial slur as he intervened in a fight at a Westwood home in September, police records show. He was served with the 56-hour suspension Wednesday night, said his attorney, Zach Gottesman.

The other officer, Dennis Barnette, who is white, used it to refer to an African-American woman he restrained during her arrest as she struggled and struck him in the face outside the Brownstone nightclub in Roselawn in December, police records show.

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Barnette was served with his suspension Monday, Gottesman said.

“The union that represents Cincinnati police will assist both officers in appealing the suspensions with an arbitrator and we expect they will be reversed,” he said.

We are checking with Cincinnati police for comment and will update this story once we hear back.

Earlier this week, an independent arbitrator ruled in favor of a Cincinnati police officer, Kevin Brown, appealing his suspension over the Tasing of a 11-year-old girl attempting to flee an alleged shoplifting offense.

How Cincinnati police and city leaders handled the officers’ discipline prompted them to recently file separate lawsuits against Police Chief Eliot Isaac and City Manager Patrick Duhaney.

The chief and city manager were each sued in their official capacities and personally.

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After the suits were filed in late April, the police chief immediately restored both officers’ powers, according to Gottesman. They were both placed on desk duty late last year.

The officers’ cases were handled differently and unfairly - and it’s all part of mercurial pattern by the police chief, he said.

The city and police department erred by originally concluding Hill violated a policy against profanity when he violated the one against prejudicial expression concerning race, religion and gender, police records show.

Both officers gave their sides of the story during separate administrative hearings in March.

The police supervisor who served as a hearing officer during his administrative hearing, Captain Doug Wiesman, said any use of the racial slur is unacceptable by a police employee, police records state.

Hill argued he used a variation of the N-word that was not derogatory, according to police records.

He received a written reprimand.

So, Wiesman wrote the chief in a memo, it would be unfair at this point to find another rule violation “for the exact same violation he has already been disciplined for."

But Isaac still assigned a seven-day suspension to Hill.

Any similar conduct by both Hill - and Barnette - would result in recommendation for termination, Isaac wrote the city manager.

Hill and Barnette both also have been placed on employee intervention and monitoring plans and must attend additional training, police records show.

The starkly different way top Cincinnati police officials handled the officers’ initial discipline had made its way into a third lawsuit, another one that could wind up costing taxpayers money.

In addition to each officer suing, their cases have been included in an amendment their lawyer made earlier this year to an existing federal lawsuit that alleges a racial divide within the Cincinnati Police Department favors African-American officers over white ones through race-based double standards with claims of “obvious disparity of discipline” of Hill and Barnette.

Two white officers, Specialist Joy Ludgatis and Officer Tamara Brown, filed the suit in June against the city of Cincinnati, John Cranley (in his capacity as mayor and individually); the former city manager, Harry Black, Duhaney, Isaac, Lt. (now Captain) Danita Pettis (individually and in her official capacity) and the Sentinel Police Association, an advocacy group for African-American Cincinnati police officers.

The lawsuit alleges discrimination, a hostile work environment, retaliation and unlawful employment practices and seeks unspecified damages.

It claims Cincinnati Police Department is mired in a racially tense atmosphere with “open hostility between officers of different races” and that hostility has jeopardized officer safety.

Now the suit includes details FOX19 NOW exclusively reported in March about the very different discipline of two officers - one white, one black - after they used the N-word during separate responses months apart.

Gottesman has said Brown and Ludgatis hope their lawsuit forces institutional charge within the police department and city administration and "the removal of politics and racial bias from police discipline.”

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