Assistant police chief files EEOC complaint
One of the Durham Police Department’s three assistant chiefs has filed a discrimination charge against the city, alleging he was passed over for a promotion for having complained about Chief Jose Lopez’s treatment of black officers.
Winslow Forbes, commander of the department’s southside operations, says Lopez broke with department custom to give Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh his current post at the head of the administrative bureau this spring.
Forbes said he scored as well in a promotion review as the department’s other current deputy chief, Larry Smith, when he and Smith in the summer of 2012 applied to lead its patrol officers and detectives.
The usual practice when the administrative deputy’s post opened soon afterward would have been to give him that job, Forbes said.
But Lopez opted to hold a new promotion review and wound up giving the job to Marsh, who had been an assistant chief for only about seven months. Deputy chiefs are the department’s second-ranking commanders, assistants its third-ranking.
Forbes and one of his lawyers, Caitlyn Thomson, allege Lopez retaliated against Forbes because he’d objected in 2011 and again in 2012 to what he saw as discrimination within the department.
“Chief Lopez was not happy with [Forbes] because of his assertion there was race discrimination going on,” Thomson said in an interview Friday after she submitted the charge to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The commission is the federal agency that conducts initial investigations of job-discrimination claims. When it finds discrimination it presses employers to make good on the situation, in rare cases taking direct action against them through a lawsuit.
More commonly it opts to issue a worker a “right to sue” letter giving the federal courts jurisdiction over a subsequent lawsuit by the worker.
Thomson said workers like Forbes also have the separate option of pursuing a civil rights lawsuit in federal court. Forbes may go that route as well.
“I would not assume we would wait until the end of the EEOC investigation to file a lawsuit,” said Thomson, who’s represented city and Durham Area Transit Authority workers in past cases.
Comment from city officials was not immediately forthcoming. City Attorney Patrick Baker, Senior Assistant City Attorney Kim Rehberg and City Manager Tom Bonfield couldn’t be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
But officials apparently had been aware of Forbes’ unhappiness.
According to the EEOC complaint, the city Human Resources Department used a consultant to investigate his allegations this spring, finding the discrimination claim “not substantiated” and the retaliation claim one it was “unable to determine” the truth of.
Thomson said she, Forbes and another lawyer working for Forbes, James Rogers, met with Bonfield and Rehberg July 16. The discussion, though “pleasant and cordial,” did not yield any “specific outcome,” Thomson said.
Forbes’ EEOC complaint said he first raised the discrimination issue with Lopez in 2011 when the chief and a then-deputy chief told him they thought a lieutenant in the department wouldn’t be a good candidate for promotion to captain “because of her speech.”
The lieutenant in question “had a style of speech referred to by linguists as ‘African-American vernacular English’” that is common in the South, the complaint said. Forbes made sure she received training for a promotion despite the views of department higher-ups.
The issue resurfaced in 2012 after Smith beat out Forbes to be deputy chief over operations.
“I did not file an official complaint at that time, but I discussed with Chief Lopez that there were many black officers who were qualified for promotion, yet he had consistently promoted non-black officers,’ Forbes said in his filing.
Forbes alleged Lopez made a “racially offensive statement” to colleagues while preparing for an early July news conference on a recent string of shootings.
The chief during preparations said all the recent victims had been black and involved in criminal activity. Another assistant chief pointed out that one of the victims was a lawyer. Lopez “responded by saying that the lawyer deserved to get shot because he was a public defender,” the complaint alleged.
Thomson said the lawyer in question was not actually a public defender, but a practice-practice attorney who like herself volunteers to do court-appointed defense work. She added that she was “very disturbed” by the alleged comment given that the U.S. Constitution requires the government to make a defense lawyer available to people accused of crimes.
The present top-level command staff of the Police Department, sworn officers holding the rank of captain and above, includes nine whites, seven blacks and one Hispanic. The Hispanic is Lopez. Smith is white. Forbes and Marsh are black.
Forbes as southside operations commander is supervisor of the captains who orchestrate patrol and detective work in Districts 3 and 4, which cover southwest and south Durham.
Before their promotions to deputy chief, Smith and Marsh headed northside operations, watching over Districts 1, 2 and 5. District 1 covers east Durham, District 2 covers north Durham and District 5 is the city’s central business district.
Forbes remains in his post, Thomson said.
“He’s had nothing but an excellent performance record for 25 years,” she added. “Certainly if any action were to be taken [against him] at this point, it would appear to me to be retaliatory.”