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Discrimination Claims Against Magnus Start to Break Up

Accuser drops from Richmond police racism suit

By Karl Fischer
West County Times

Article Launched: 06/05/2008 03:20:51 PM PDT

A high-ranking Richmond police official dropped out of a race discrimination suit against his department this week, but nearly half the command staff remains mired in a case that likely will drag into next spring.

After spending Monday testifying at a deposition, Capt. Alec Griffin returned Tuesday and signed a settlement with city representatives.

Griffin did not return a call for comment Thursday. Nor did Christopher Dolan, the attorney who represented Griffin and still represents seven other black police supervisors in the case.

"We are very pleased about it, and we hope the others will soon take similar action," Richmond City Attorney Louise Renne said. "I believe that (Griffin) sees, as we do, that the case has no merit."

Griffin, who said previously that he sued to bring attention to and correct perceived insensitivity in the department, received written assurance that the agency would conduct mandatory diversity training.

The group filed suit against the city and police Chief Chris Magnus last year, arguing that race influenced his managerial decisions and that he and now-retired deputy chief Lori Ritter made overtly racist comments during the previous year.

Their accusations included complaints of discrimination in promotion and personnel decisions, as well as allegations of racist jokes. Magnus, who previously denied all of the allegations, referred comment to city legal staff on Thursday. "We have had a number of pretrial motions that resulted in the dismissal of many of the claims made in the complaint," said Art Hartinger, a private attorney representing the city in the case.

About half of the department's senior command staff sued: Griffin; Capts. Cleveland Brown and Eugene McBride; and Lts. Michael Booker, Shawn Pickett, Johan Simon and Arnold Threets. Sgt. Jim Jenkins, president of the department's black officers union, also joined the suit.

The accusations prompted Richmond to hire Ray Marshall, a past president of the state bar, to investigate.

His report either refuted or found insufficient evidence of nearly all specific claims in the complaint, though Marshall did document a longstanding undercurrent of racial conflict within the department.

Magnus, previously chief of the Fargo, N.D., Police Department, arrived in Richmond in January 2006.

He promoted both Griffin and Booker a few months later.

Case mediation failed in the winter, and the case is scheduled for trial in Contra Costa Superior Court in March.

Griffin argued in the suit that when he called the police chief's secretary in October 2006 to see if Magnus wanted a ride to a community event, he overheard the chief cracking a joke in the background about "Driving Miss Daisy," a movie about a rich southern white woman and her black chauffeur.

Magnus denied those claims, and Marshall's report indicates that independent witnesses refuted Griffin's claim when interviewed.

Griffin also claimed that Magnus once told him that cleaning restrooms at a local park would be a good job for him.

Marshall could not find evidence that this happened.

Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or kfischer@bayareanewsgroup.com.