Lawsuit: Racial divide at Cincinnati Police favors black cops thru 'race-based' double standards

Published: Jun. 14, 2018 at 8:10 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2018 at 9:29 AM EDT
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Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils at a press conference last year at the FOP Hall. (FOX19 NOW/file)
Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils at a press conference last year at the FOP Hall. (FOX19 NOW/file)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A racial divide in the Cincinnati Police Department favors African-American officers over white ones through "race-based" double standards, a federal lawsuit filed this week alleges.

In fact, racial tension in the department is so bad it has caused "open hostility between officers of different races" that has "jeopardized officer safety," the suit states.

It was filed by two white officers, Joy Ludgatis and Tamera Brown, against the City of Cincinnati, Mayor John Cranley, Police Chief Eliot Isaac, Lt. Danita Pettis, former City Manager Harry Black, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney and the Sentinel Police Association, a 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.

"The City, Cranley, Duhaney, Black, and Isaac have instituted and perpetuated unconstitutional race-based policies for  hiring, promotion, discipline and conferring benefits of employment among and upon the ranks of the Cincinnati Police Department," the suit states.

They "have implemented and continue to implement an unconstitutional race-based State Consent Decree and an unconstitutional race-based Federal Consent Decree that predate predicate promotions among qualified candidates based solely and exclusively on racial criteria."

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges there is an unconstitutional race-based:

  • "double standard for discipline among the Cincinnati Police Department that permissively condones misconduct for certain officers that would subject others to discipline."
  • "detail assignment that confers benefits of employment through preferred detail assignments officers based solely on their race and excludes other equally qualified officers based solely on their race."
  • "permitting insubordination and violation of rules for chain of command by black officers, including specifically Pettis, that would subject others to discipline."
  • "permitting theft in office and fraudulent behavior and excessive claims of overtime compensation by black officers, including specifically Pettis, that would subject others to discipline."

"The specific policies outlined above have had an aggregate effect of creating an atmosphere of racial tension and in some cases open hostility between officers of different races," according to the suit.

A spokesman for Cincinnati police and Sgt. Dan Hils, FOP president, both declined comment.

"It is the policy of the Cincinnati Police Department to refrain from commenting on matters involving pending litigation," Lt. Steve Saunders wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW.

The mayor, his spokeswoman and a spokesman for the acting city manager did not respond to requests for comment. Black, who resigned in April, could not be reached for comment.

Pettis did not respond to multiple text messages and phone calls seeking comment.

Some city council members like Tamaya Dennard declined to talk.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said Cincinnati Police Department should reconcile their differences and focus on protecting and serving the community.

"In my experience, I've always known Lt. Pettis to be a professional and effective police officer who has served our community well," he said.

"The Police Department needs to come together and achieve reconciliation. I have great admiration for our police officers, and we need them working collaboratively to ensure the highest levels of public safety."

Councilman Wendell Young said racial issues in the police department date back to before he became an officer. He worked for CPD from 1967 until his retirement in 1992.

"One way or another, the city has just got to resolve these issues," he said. "There's an old saying: 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe that applies to this particular situation."

This is the latest controversy at Cincinnati Police Department as concerns about racial tensions in the department became public over the past year and increased in recent months.

It comes after a dispute during roll calls at District 4 police station in Avondale last year.

The leader of Cincinnati's police union, Sgt. Dan Hils and Pettis - who filed a complaint against him - were reprimanded as a result of the incidents, including one in which Hils referred to one of the city's neighborhoods as an "urban ghetto.

Cincinnati police union leader, lieutenant reprimanded in 'urban ghetto' roll call dispute

Hils went to the third shift roll call Nov. 26 to speak with officers after receiving complaints about how Pettis treated them including when she sharply criticized a police specialist in front of her peers during a Nov. 22 roll call and her response to a Nov. 17  shots fired incident.

In his interview with internal investigators, he said he went to the meeting because he was told Pettis was "bullying" other officers.

Pettis' behavior was so hostile, demeaning and unprofessional that the entire third shift of District 4 sent a memo to Isaac requesting a conference regarding Pettis' practices of verbal abuse and emotional intimidation and their collective fear of unfair retaliation, the lawsuit states.

It was not immediately clear that an officer had been shot at, and Ludgatis, disagreed with Pettis over the timing of when it was confirmed that an officer was shot at.

In a memo to Isaac, one of the officers who attended the Nov. 26 roll call accused Hils as having said "I do not know how she became a police officer. She was able to manage to work her way up and became a lieutenant only because she will kick, scream, b---- and yell it was race, sexism, or whatever. I never would have imagined she would be my superior."

He also was quoted as calling Avondale an "urban ghetto" and that he had "kicked (Pettis') a---" when arresting her 25 years ago.

Hils later apologized for his "urban ghetto" comments and in his interview with internal investigators, Hils also conceded he was wrong to discuss Pettis' arrest.

His characterization of Avondale as an "urban ghetto" upset civil rights groups and led to a vote of no confidence in him by The Sentinel Police Association, an organization of African American Cincinnati police officers.

NAACP, others ask chief to hold FOP leader accountable; He apologizes for 'urban ghetto' remark

FOP withdraws from Collaborative update

Leader of Cincinnati's black officers: Collaborative policing 'in danger'

Black police group: No confidence in FOP leader

An internal investigation ended with written reprimands for both Hils and Pettis.

Internal affairs investigators found Pettis treated subordinates inappropriately.

Brown and Ludgatis were moved to other districts in December.

Pettis was moved to the day shift in District 3, where she does the same job she did in District 4 on third shift.

Brown and Ludgatis' suit hones in on Pettis, contending she was promoted solely on race despite numerous problems.

"Pettis is a vindictive, openly racist police officer who is unfit and lacks the character and integrity to be a police officer," the suit reads.

"Pettis has engaged in conduct as a police officer that, but for her race, would have resulted in the discipline and/or criminal charges against her including, but not limited to:

  • "allegedly stealing money from a 5/3rd bank during a detail"
  • "falsely representing her credentials to gain access to the Hamilton County Justice Center so she could advise a rape suspect/family member how to avoid prosecution"
  • "making false and excessive claims for overtime compensation, using city property for personal use"
  • "committing theft in office, and abusing her role as a Sentinel Police Association Union Representative to obstruct justice and suborn false testimony by officers accused of misconduct."

Pettis has never been charged with stealing money from Fifth Third Bank..

Earlier this year, FOX19 NOW obtained a memo stating Pettis was removed from an internal investigation interview by the internal affairs supervisor because he felt she violated the department's rule that officers "shall not interfere with cases being handled by other members of the Department or other governmental agency.

Pettis was not disciplined for that incident, FOX19 NOW confirmed.

Memo: CPD investigates 2 officers over off duty detail, pay

The lawsuit includes a May 24 internal memo Ludgatis sent to two police officials and Hils about "Continued Discriminatory, Unprofessional and Disrespectful Behavior by Lt. Danita Pettis."

Pettis "lied about me yet again," her memo states, during an April police union meeting with 128 members present. Pettis claimed Ludgatis was transferred in 2015 after being "found guilty of being a racist."

According to Ludgatis, the former union president, Kathy Harrell, stood up for Ludgatis at the meeting and explained the transfer was because she didn't want to work for Pettis and didn't trust her.

Ludgatis says Pettis confronted Harrell the next day and repeated the accusation that Ludgatis was a racist. According to Ludgatis, Pettis repeated an earlier accusation that the department's peer review panel "was made up of all male white racists."

"I question her mental stability," Ludgatis memo states. "I perceive her hostility toward me only to be because I am female white. She singles out female whites to verbally attack and demean."

As a result of the ongoing issues, the lawsuit claims the city's failure to fix the hostile work environment "created by Pettis" caused plaintiffs' health to suffer.

Brown, who has been with CPD 15 years, has ulcers and Ludgatis, a 27-year veteran of the department, struggles to sleep.

In April of 2017, months before the roll call dispute, Pettis warned the police chief in writing there might be trouble with her supervising Ludgatis when Pettis learned she was being abruptly transferred to District 4 from Central Business District, records show.

Pettis filed an EEO complaint on Ludgatis two years prior, in February 2015, stating Ludgatis made racial statements that led to Ludgatis being transferred out of Central Business Section to District 4, records state.

Captain Mike Neville wrote that Ludgatis' comments "which give rise to Lieutenant Pettis' ability to command the Central Business Section," were in violation of police department rules that members:

  • Always be civil, orderly and courteous in dealing with the public, subordinates, superiors and associates
  • Shall not express prejudice concerning race, sex, religion, national origin, lifestyle, or similar personal characteristic

Captain Mike Neville recommended Ludgatis receive a written reprimand and be transferred from the section.

Then-Assistant Police Chief James Whalen recommended to the chief at the time that Neville's request be approved and transfer Ludgatis to District 4.

Pettis wrote in her April 23, 2017, memo to Isaac the incident created "unnecessary anxiety and hostile working environment" for her.

"The original concerns Lt. Pettis expressed in 2015, that future management decisions affecting Specialist Ludgatis could be deemed by Specialist Ludgatis as retaliatory in nature based upon Specialist Ludgatis' perceptions of Lt. Pettis would still be an issue currently and would not permit Lt. Pettis to supervise Specialist Ludgatis effectively," she wrote to the chief in her request to have Ludgatis transferred.

District 4 commander Captain Martin Mack recommended Pettis' request be denied, according to the memo.

"This incident occurred over two years ago and there has not been any additional incidents to date. Furthermore, Specialist Ludgatis was disciplined for the incident at that time and should not be penalized a second time," Martin handwrote on Pettis' memo.

"Furthermore, Specialist Ludgatis was disciplined for this incident at that time and should not be penalized a second time. Both Lt. Pettis and Specialist Ludgatis was spoken to by Captain Mack and advised that both are expected to be professional in their interactions.

"Request no further action in this matter."

Assistant Chief Paul Neudigate also wrote on the memo, concurring with Mack's assessment and recommending and requesting denial.

"Request denied," Isaac wrote agreed.

In other recent race-related issues with Cincinnati police, a female police captain who has accused several of the city's top police officials of sex discrimination claims she has been singled out because she's a woman and because she supports Eliot Isaac, "our African-American chief of police."

Cincinnati police leaders accused of sexual discrimination, attempt to oust chief

Her allegation came just before an audit draft outlining serious police overtime problems was leaked to the media.

That prompted Black to a call for  federal prosecutors to root out a "rogue element" he claimed was "corrupt" within the police department and undermining the authority of chief's authority.

Some police employees are disrupting operations, according to Black, because they don't want to work for an African-American chief and city manager.

City Manager: Feds should root out 'rogue element' in Cincinnati Police Department

Then Black, acting on Isaac's recommendation, ousted the second-in-command at the police department, Executive Assistant Police Chief David Bailey, who was one of three men named in Bardua's complaint.

Among the reasons cited: Bailey intentionally undermined the chief's authority and the refresh of the city's Collaborative Agreement that's currently underway. Bailey has denied both.

City's first black police chief 'taken aback' at claims of racism, 'rogue element' in CPD

Cranley, citing a pattern of unprofessional behavior, then asked Black to resign. After a nasty public dispute, Black quit in April.

Those exchanges came weeks after federal monitor Saul Green's blistering report on the state of the Collaborative in January.

Meanwhile, a police captain, Jeff Butler updated a federal lawsuit he filed last year against the city, Black,the mayor with new allegations involving the police chief alleging Isaac turned a blind eye to felony theft for "systematic abuse of police overtime."

State Auditor David Yost's office is now looking into those allegations and one of misuse of 911 funds at the request of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Auditors are completing that work as part of the city's regular annual audit, which is underway now, Yost has told FOX19 NOW.

State auditor reviewing how Cincinnati 911 funds are spent

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