By Bay City News
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 bears responsibility, since city officials did nothing to step in and stop the alleged harassment.
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 Contra Costa Times quoted comments from Magnus, speaking on the courthouse steps afterward: "I feel that justice has been done, but we have our work cut out for us. We are committed to healing the department.")
("We need to show respect for each other," Magnus said. "And we need to refocus our priorities, back to serving the community as well as we can. I bear no animosity towards anyone. ... I'm very proud of the men and women I work with, including the ones involved in this trial.")
(The Times also quoted Threets saying he was "profoundly disappointed. ... My personal opinion is evil won.")
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.
Lawyers who represented Magnus and Ritter were not immediately available for comment.