The Los Angeles Police Department captain picked to oversee internal misconduct cases was once sued for discrimination after he displayed a noose in his office and under questioning admitted to having frequently used a term considered a racial slur.
As a result, the head of an organization of African American officers wrote Chief William J. Bratton Tuesday to complain about the promotion soon to be handed to Capt. Richard Webb.
The city paid $155,000 to settle the lawsuit against Webb, but he denied the discrimination allegations and elaborated in a statement Tuesday. He said his use of a hot-button term derogatory to African Americans was always in an official context when discussing suspects under police investigation.
"I am proud of my 28 years of service to the city and to the LAPD and am proud of accurately reporting what suspects say in the field," said Webb, who is slated to rise to the rank of commander effective July 1.
"Unfortunately, some people I have dealt with over the years say things that decent people don't like. I still have to report things that are distasteful. Except for course and scope of duty such as reporting hate incidents or conducting administrative investigations, I have never used derogatory terms in my professional career."
Webb was promoted last week and assigned as assistant commanding officer of the department's Professional Standards Bureau, which oversees police officer misconduct investigations.
In a letter to Bratton, Sgt. Ronnie Cato, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, said many African American officers who are members of the group were shocked and disappointed at Webb's appointment because of what Cato said was his past use of the term.
The organization "cannot and will not stand by and allow managers like Capt. Webb to continue their discriminatory treatment of minorities," Cato wrote. "Because of Capt. Webb's negative history toward African Americans -- which appears to be a part of his upbringing -- we are asking you as the general manager of this department to reevaluate the decision to promote Capt. Webb or at the very least, reconsider his assignment to the sensitive position at Professional Standards Bureau."
Lt. Mark Tappan, vice president of the organization, said Cato was speaking for the foundation board and many other members in raising concerns about Webb.
The Los Angeles City Council voted in September 2005 to settle the discrimination suit filed against Webb by officers Jonathon Goode and Linda Thompson. It alleged racial harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
The city did not admit any wrongdoing in settling the case, which charged that Goode, a sergeant who is white, had been retaliated against in part because he pointed out that a hangman's noose in Webb's office was considered by at least one black civilian employee to be an offensive symbol that raised memories of lynchings in the South.
"When Webb was advised of [the employee's] concerns," Cato wrote, "he became angry and accused [the employee] of being too sensitive."
Cato said Webb admitted in a deposition to using the racial slur starting when he was a young boy and continuing into his career with the LAPD.
Bradley Gage, the attorney who sued Webb on behalf of Goode, recalls Webb saying he used the word outside the office in a manner that was not meant to be derogatory.
"Personally, any time any person uses that term it is derogatory," Gage said.
The lawsuit also alleged that Webb mistreated Goode because he did not approve of Goode dating Thompson, who is African American.
Cato said that in the lawsuit, Webb was also accused of giving different treatment to an African American officer and a white officer for nearly identical conduct. Cato said Webb transferred the African American officer out of the unit while he allowed the white officer to stay.
Bratton was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and not available for comment. But a representative said Webb was promoted because the chief felt he was appropriate for the job.
"The chief is not going to promote someone who he thinks is not qualified," said Sgt. Lee Sands, a department spokesman.
Cato argued that the use of a racial slur should disqualify Webb from the bureau assignment even though he "has disputed the objective interpretation of his spoken words." Cato said official court records show that while giving a deposition under oath, Webb admitted to using the word more than 120 times.
Cato warned Bratton that if he did not reassign Webb, the foundation would seek intervention from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the civilian Police Commission, which is weighing whether to reappoint Bratton to a second term.
"Is this another example of the good ole boys protecting their own? Or is this another case of the department protecting the status quo?" Cato wrote. "How can we as African Americans have any confidence in the system knowing that Webb has behaved like a racist and is now in control/in charge of the discipline process that will be administered against us?"