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Deputies File Claims Citing Racist Jokes, Death Threat : Minorities: The officers seek $7.5 million. The Sheriff’s Department says discriminatory actions were punished.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eleven of the 15 black deputies in the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department filed claims against the county Wednesday, alleging acts of racism and sexism ranging from derogatory jokes to a death threat.

The claims also allege that blacks were discriminated against in hiring, promotions, performance evaluations, salary and other personnel matters. Supervising officers tacitly approved racially discriminatory language and actions, the claims said.

In addition, the claims allege that the department failed to discipline officers involved in racist actions and to adequately investigate such incidents. There also was retaliation against officers who reported the discriminatory conduct, according to the deputies’ claims.

“I think it’s clearly in the best interest of the county to address the sort of outrageous conditions in which officers are being forced to work,” said Los Angeles attorney Bert Voorhees III, who is representing the deputies.

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Undersheriff Larry Carpenter said he had not reviewed the claims and could not comment except to say that many of the recent allegations have been investigated. Claims of discrimination that were found to be valid were corrected and officers were disciplined, he said.

The Sheriff’s Department, which has denied racism in its administration, has acknowledged that racial remarks were made by deputies on two occasions, and that a deputy sold a knife with Ku Klux Klan insignia to another deputy.

The deputies’ claims, which total more than $7.5 million, allege racial discrimination in the department since 1980.

Deputy Steve Adams said that while he was a cadet in 1988, he found a black plastic pig with large red lips dressed in a police uniform next to his nameplate.

Deputy Rachele Hudson, who has been with the department for six years, said that two years ago, a sergeant asked her at the beginning of a briefing, “Hudson, did you become a cop because you couldn’t play basketball?”

There also have been incidents of sexual discrimination. One black female deputy said she was referred to by a senior deputy as “cupcake” around the station. He later sat in her lap while he was talking to her at work. And Deputy Maria Christine said that a supervisor told her that he would not trade a male for a female when she requested a shift change.

Sgt. Kenton Rainey, the highest-ranking black in the department, describes a decade of racial incidents.

In 1988, Rainey saw a flyer posted in the lunchroom at the Camarillo station advertising that deputies applying for motorcycle detail were required to wear “KKK helmets and dress like Nazis.” In October, 1990, Lt. Richard Diaz, in an attempt to apologize for racist statements he had made, referred to a black with a pejorative, Rainey’s claim said. Diaz declined to comment.

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Rainey sent letters to Sheriff John V. Gillespie in October and November complaining about racial incidents. Afterward, Rainey was put on paid leave, which he contends was retaliatory. The Sheriff’s Department denies the allegation.

Deputy Kim Garrett said the problems of racism increased in the summer of 1990.

During a morning briefing in July or August, he said, Sgt. Michael De Los Santos told officers to be aware of blacks in Thousand Oaks because “the only reason African-American people come to Thousand Oaks is to commit crimes.”

De Los Santos declined to comment.

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After Garrett filed complaints about that and another incident, he began having problems getting backup, he said.

When he voiced concerns, he was told that he would be placed on leave without pay if he failed to show up for work. He was later transferred to court services, which the claim says is generally viewed as a dead-end assignment.

Other claims describe the tension after Rainey’s letters and Garrett’s complaints were made. Deputy Victor Boswell said he found it increasingly difficult to receive backup in the field. On one occasion, Boswell requested backup three times before he got a response, one claim said.

In another claim, a deputy and his wife attributed a death threat on their answering machine to the rising racial tensions in the department.

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In hopes of diffusing such tensions, the County Board of Supervisors has ordered Gillespie, Fire Chief George Lund and county personnel to meet with minority sheriff’s deputies and firefighters to discuss the allegations.

The supervisors also called for a separate meeting with Rainey, Gillespie and county officials to discuss Rainey’s job status. Rainey is now on paid leave.

Their actions came after black firefighters and deputies asked them to appoint an affirmative action officer from outside their departments to handle allegations of racism and failure to meet affirmative action goals.

Claims will also be filed against the five cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department--Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Ojai, Moorpark and Fillmore.

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