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Jury Clears Richmond Police Chief, Department Of Racial Bias

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A Richmond Police patrol car. (CBS)

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MARTINEZ (CBS SF) — A Contra Costa County Superior Court jury in Martinez Tuesday cleared Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus of racial bias allegations in a civil lawsuit filed by seven senior African-American officers.

The verdict rejecting the lawsuit’s claims came after a three-month trial in the court of Judge Barry Goode. The jury also exonerated former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city of Richmond.

The officers alleged in the 2007 lawsuit that Magnus and Ritter, both of whom are white, harassed and discriminated against them by making a series of racist comments and bypassing some of the officers for promotion, and then retaliated against them when they complained. The officers said that the city also bore responsibility, since city officials did nothing to step in and stop the alleged harassment.

KCBS’ Dave Padilla Reports:

Mangus said his department must begin to heal. The police chief is hoping to put this case behind him.

“I don’t see this really as winners and losers,” said Magnus. “I feel like justice was definitely done, but we have our work still cut out for us.”

Magnus became Richmond’s police chief in 2006 after having served for six years as police chief in Fargo, N.D.

Magnus and Ritter denied the allegations. Their lawyers argued during the trial that Magnus sought to promote women and minority group members and contended the lawsuit was an attempt to oust a progressive police chief who wanted to change the status quo within the department.

The seven plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Lt. Michael Booker, Lt. Cleveland Brown, Lt. Arnold Threets, Capt. Eugene McBride, Lt. Shawn Pickett, Lt. Johan Simon and Sgt. James Jenkins.

Stephen Jaffe, an attorney for six of the plaintiffs, said that he was shocked by the jury’s decision.

“I never saw this coming. I thought the evidence we presented was really powerful,” Jaffe said.

Jaffe said Jenkins collapsed during the reading of the verdict. He was taken to a medical facility and was later released.

The verdict was difficult for all of the plaintiffs to hear, Jaffe said.

“They are profoundly upset…a couple of them are really cynical at this point. I can’t say I blame them,” he said.

Jonathan Matthews, a lawyer for Brown, said he will discuss possible next steps with his client, but said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.

“I appreciate the time the jury put into it, given the length of the trial. Obviously, there was disappointment at the verdict, but that’s what the jury decided, and we have to move on from there,” Matthews said.

The plaintiffs sought roughly $18 million from the court, but received no monetary award. This case could move to federal court later this year unless an agreement is reached with the plaintiffs, according to attorney Jeff Spellburg, who represents Magnus.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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