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Asian American officers allege racial discrimination in lawsuit against San Gabriel PD

Five Asian American police officers are suing the San Gabriel Police Department, alleging they were subjected to widespread discrimination and a hostile work culture in which managers used racial slurs and refused to hire or promote Asian officers.

The officers allege that they were passed over for promotions, some up to three times, and coveted assignments in favor of non-Asian colleagues with less training and experience.

In recent years, their lawsuit claims, education requirements were relaxed to promote non-Asian officers, and at least one employee promoted instead of them was under investigation by another police agency.

The officers also claim they were frequently subjected to harassment, with colleagues mocking Asian accents when speaking to them, using slurs and making comments based on hateful stereotypes.

For example, when there’s a car crash in the city, the plaintiffs frequently endure comments from other officers about “their people” being poor drivers, said the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this week.

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City spokesman Jonathan Fu said San Gabriel officials are reviewing the lawsuit, but declined to comment further.

The lawsuit identified a captain and three lieutenants who “regularly participate in this harassing behavior.” Managers teased one plaintiff, Nhat Huynh, with comments about how a dog was afraid of being eaten because Huynh was Vietnamese, the suit alleged.

The behavior, the lawsuit alleged, was dehumanizing and humiliating toward Asian people and emboldened trainees to make similar comments. The officers are suing for race discrimination and harassment, as well as retaliation and failure to prevent and remedy discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

One of the plaintiffs, Sunny Kim, said the harassment was so incessant that he left the agency.

Kim, who is Korean American and speaks fluent Korean, claimed in the suit he was denied a promotion in 2014 and 2016. In October 2016, he complained to management after a fellow officer used the N-word, according to the lawsuit. He later met with the chief of police, who told him the officer would be confronted but later threatened to fire Kim if he told anyone else about the incident, the lawsuit alleged.

Months later, Kim applied for a K-9 handler position and the selection panel called him “the most intelligent candidate,” the lawsuit said. But during a later interview for the position, the chief questioned Kim about how he handled the complaint, saying he should have confronted the officer instead of making a report, or asked to work a different shift, according to the complaint.

Kim left the department last month.

The lawsuit says only seven of the agency’s roughly 50 officers are of Asian descent in a city where more than 60% of residents are Asian and the last time an Asian American officer was hired was in 2007.

The officers are seeking unspecified economic and special damages.

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AleneTchek


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