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Ex-recruit suing Little Rock, city's police chief after probe into racial slur

by John Lynch | July 21, 2018 at 4:30 a.m. | Updated July 23, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
FILE – Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner speaks with reporters about a double homicide Sunday in west Little Rock in August 2017.

The third of three Little Rock police recruits fired in December after a department probe into how they used a racial slur in social media posts has filed his own lawsuit against Police Chief Kenton Buckner and the city.

Brandon Lawayne Gurley, 28, says his firing violates the Arkansas Civil Rights Act and the state Whistle Blower Act, making him entitled to reinstatement, restitution for lost wages and punitive damages from Buckner and Little Rock.

Represented by attorney Willard Proctor, Gurley is asking Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mary McGowan to convene a jury to decide how much he is due.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday after an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission review of his allegations was inconclusive.

Buckner said he fired Gurley for, among other things, not being truthful during the internal affairs investigation and for comments Gurley made on social media.

Gurley contends that he was fired "because he came forward about racism, harassment and misconduct during the LRPD recruit process."

"There is a difference between an African-American using the term 'n-----' or 'n----' within the African-American community and a white person directing those terms toward a black person or using the terms to describe a black person," the suit states.

The other two recruits, Brandon Schiefelbein and Katina Jones, sued Buckner and the city in February. Their case is scheduled for trial in October before Circuit Judge Tim Fox.

They say their free-speech rights were violated since their posts -- each using the slur -- were made years before they were hired by the Police Department. Both also accused Buckner of violating their civil rights by singling them out for punitive treatment. Jones made the social media post when she was 16, while Schiefelbein says he was 19 when he posted a photo with a derivative of the word.

Jones, a black woman, says she was discriminated against because she's a woman, while Schiefelbein says he was punished more severely because he is white.

Gurley says police turned against him after he complained about how he was treated when he joined the recruit program in August. His complaint included remarks made by Schiefelbein.

"From the early weeks onward, plaintiff was the victim of racial jokes, a racially hostile workplace, personal attacks, harassment, hazing and retaliation," the suit states. "Plaintiff overheard racist comments from white recruit, Brandon Schiefelbein, which included references to fried chicken, watermelon and other stereotypical racist concepts."

A fellow black recruit showed Gurley screenshots from Schiefelbein's Facebook page depicting a black Army soldier asleep with the Schiefelbein-written caption, "Go night night, n----. Go night night."

Schiefelbein was ultimately fired for those posts after Gurley sent them to police administrators. But one of the first things Gurley did was to consult with Sgt. Willie Davis and tell him what had been going on, according to the lawsuit. Davis reported the situation to his superiors, including Buckner.

Davis, president of the Black Police Officers Association, was not in Gurley's chain of command, but Gurley said he got permission from officer Elisha Ramer to go to Davis, a claim that Ramer later denied.

Gurley said he was questioned in the ensuing Schiefelbein probe and told investigators about his experiences, "which reflected racial animus with the LRPD and a hostile work environment where he was repeatedly harassed by recruits and officers."

But Internal Affairs questioners, Sgts. Jim Bob Stephens and Christina Plummer, had no interest in determining the scope of any racial hostility in the training program, Gurley's suit says. Instead, they tried to "poke holes" in his story, downplay his concerns and "ultimately, to punish him for coming forward and reporting the misconduct."

"They sought to trap plaintiff into violating policy by asking confusing questions, by asking leading questions and by being generally hostile with him," the suit states. "They chastised plaintiff for not coming forward, attempting to intimidate him and cast doubt on his account."

The suit compares how Gurley was treated as compared with the month's suspension of white officer Kevin Tindle, who wore blackface and carried a watermelon at a 1992 Halloween costume party. Tindle's girlfriend dressed as a fried-chicken drumstick.

The suit also draws parallels with former officer Josh Hastings, who is white and was present at a Ku Klux Klan meeting before beginning his police training. Hastings didn't disclose the incident, as he was required to do, but was allowed to complete his training and join the department, the suit says. Hastings was later fired after shooting and killing a 15-year-old black boy when a police probe concluded that Hastings had lied about what had happened and violated police procedure.

Metro on 07/21/2018

Print Headline: Ex-recruit suing city, police chief


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