LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Four black police officers are suing the city of Little Rock alleging age and racial discrimination, underscoring a growing divide between the city’s police chief and an organization for black officers.
The federal lawsuit filed Monday argued that Lt. Earnest Whitten, Sgt. Derrick Threadgill, Sgt. Willie Davis and fired officer Jackie Parker faced “disparate” treatment because of their race and ages, and that management violated whistleblower laws by retaliating when officers complained.
“We want them to justify their personnel decisions,” said Mike Laux, an attorney for the officers. “I’ve looked at them. It doesn’t make sense to me. Let’s not beat around the bush. There is rampant racism and racial discrimination that riddles the Little Rock Police Department.”
The lawsuit also alleged Police Chief Kenton Buckner, who is not listed as a defendant, subjected the officers to a hostile work environment because of their involvement in the Little Rock Black Police Officers Association. The organization has criticized the chief’s leadership, accusing him of disciplining white officers with more hesitance than with black officers.
“There are many instances of similar conduct by white LRPD officers who were either not disciplines or disciplined … less harshly,” the lawsuit stated.
The hostile work environment included harassment, suspensions and threats of demotion, according to the lawsuit.
“I don’t know if he has made his career out of being the African-American who is tough on African-Americans and thereby useful to white leadership,” Laux said of Buckner, who is black. “He relieves white folks of a lot of their guilt.”
Laux said there are plans for Capt. Tanya Washington and Lt. Johnny Gilbert to also join the complaint. The two are waiting on right-to-sue letters from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit is seeking relief that includes punitive damages, compensatory damages and a declaratory judgment that Little Rock engages in discriminatory practices.
Buckner, City Manager Bruce Moore and City Attorney Tom Carpenter all declined to comment, citing pending litigation.