Jury selection is set to begin in a federal lawsuit in which three Westminster police officers contend they were passed up for promotions and special assignments because they are Latino.
The lawsuit, filed in 2011, claims officers Jose Flores, Ryan Reyes and Brian Perez were denied assignments that would have lead to promotions and that Latino officers on the force were routinely assigned to patrol the Westminster Mall, which their attorney described as a "dead end" position unlikely to ever lead to a promotion.
Two of the three officers in the suit have been assigned to mall duty and none has been promoted to corporal or sergeant, the suit contends. All three have worked at Westminster Police Department for at least a decade.
"Their competitors, who are non-Latino, get detective assignments in their second year," said Victor Viramontes, an attorney representing the officers.
"These three Latino officers dedicate their lives, put their lives on the line and been outstanding officers and they've been denied opportunities, at every turn, to move up the ranks."
Since the lawsuit was filed, Viramontes said, several Latino officers have been promoted, but not his clients.
"The pattern of promotion looks to be retaliatory and looks to be an attempt to cover up their illegal acts," he said."
Melanie Poturica, the attorney representing Westminster, said the lawsuit is without merit.
"The city is denying that it engaged in discrimination and retaliation," Poturica said. "We feel that we have a very strong case and we are ready to go to trial."
Flores claims he applied for special assignments and was denied all of them except the mall position, despite receiving recognition for his work as a police officer, including winning awards from
Reyes also said he was denied all special assignments except the mall position despite being recognized as rookie of the year and receiving multiple merit medals. Perez, a U.S. Marine, said he has applied for special assignments and been denied all of them.
Opening arguments are expected to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.