Jury Rejects Racism Claim by Ex-Deputy
A federal jury has rejected a black former Ventura County deputy’s claims that racial harassment by two white deputies forced him to quit the Sheriff’s Department in 1990.
The U. S. District Court jury in Los Angeles, composed of six whites, one Latino and one African-American, voted unanimously last week to reject the $750,000 lawsuit filed by former Deputy Greg Jones.
“They weren’t satisfied that the plaintiff had shown that the particular incidents of racially offensive conduct were anything more than isolated acts by individuals,” David Epstein, attorney for the Sheriff’s Department, said Friday. “And they did not believe that there was any institutionalized racism or discriminatory pattern within the department.”
Neither Jones nor his attorney, David Duchrow, could be reached for comment Friday.
Jones’ lawsuit had alleged that racially charged remarks by white deputies in the East County Sheriff’s Station in Thousand Oaks created a work environment so hostile that Jones had no choice but to resign.
Jones, who joined the department in 1986, had testified that Senior Deputy Larry Logan several times welcomed him to pre-patrol briefings with the remark, “What are you doing here? These are KKK meetings.”
He also testified that Logan referred to one area of eastern Ventura County using a racial slur, and that Sgt. Cole McDaniel kept calling him “Mr. Brown.”
But U. S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima on March 11 dismissed Jones’ claims against the officers.
Tashima ruled that the remarks, while offensive, did not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and thus the deputies were not liable for civil damages on grounds of racial bias.
That left Jones’ claims against former Sheriff John V. Gillespie and the department.
Duchrow withdrew Jones’ claim that Gillespie had allowed a pattern of racial discrimination after Tashima said it would very likely be dismissed anyway.
A three-week trial followed, during which Jones sought to prove that there had been a pattern of racism in the department that forced him to quit.
Other African-American deputies testified about several alleged incidents of racial bias.
One testified that his call for backup in the field had been delayed because of his race, while another testified that a white deputy with a knife-selling business had shown an African-American deputy a knife with a Ku Klux Klan symbol on it, Epstein said.
Jones had sought $750,000 in general damages and future earnings that he would have made had he not left the department.
Epstein said jurors were sympathetic that Jones had experienced racism on the job, but that “they clearly did not believe there was any pattern of intentional discriminatory conduct toward him, and they stated that several times.”
Ventura County Sheriff Larry Carpenter declined to comment directly on the verdict because the department still faces other allegations of racial bias.
A separate, $7.5-million lawsuit filed in 1991 by 11 of the department’s 14 African-American deputies alleges that they were discriminated against in hiring, promotions, salaries, performance evaluations and other personnel matters. It names more than 60 officers as having taken part in racist actions or remarks, ranging from racial slurs to a death threat.
But Carpenter said, “The jury awarded nothing to Greg Jones and absolved the county of any responsibility or violation, and it awarded court costs to the county.”
Carpenter added in a written statement that he would continue to assure that his department will provide a supportive work environment regardless of race or gender. And he recalled his testimony from the trial that “deputies come in only two colors, green and tan,” the color of Ventura County deputies’ uniforms.