CHICAGO (CN) – A black police officer fired due to his troubled son’s misconduct sued a Chicago suburb, claiming he was denied his constitutional right to associate with his own son.
Willie McRay began working for the Village of Bolingbrook Police Department in 2003 and reached the rank of sergeant. He says he always received excellent performance evaluations and his disciplinary record was “impeccable.”
McRay was one of seven black police officers in a department that employs 113 officers, according to a lawsuit he filed Wednesday in Chicago federal court. Black officers comprise just 6 percent of the force, although over 13 percent of the village’s population is black.
In 2015, McRay’s son Jeremy was arrested for committing burglary to a motor vehicle. Jeremy, then age 19, lived with his mother in Plainfield, Ill., but would often visit his father in Bolingbrook and spend the night.
Upon learning of Jeremy’s suspected role in the crime, Director of Public Safety Thomas Ross allegedly told McRay that his son could no longer stay at his home, nor could McRay associate with his son, due to the department’s prohibition on officers having regular dealings with persons under criminal investigation.
“Sgt. McRay disagreed and stated that he was not in violation of the order because Jeremy is his son,” the complaint states.
McRay says Ross then ordered an internal investigation into whether McRay knew about Jeremy’s involvement in the burglary, and continued to press for criminal charges against the officer even when the investigation found nothing to hold against McRay.
He claims the investigation was used as a pretext for Bolingbrook police officials “to retaliate against Sgt. McRay for his continued exercise of his constitutional right to associate with his son, Jeremy.”
McRay was reinstated to full privileges after the investigation, but three months later Jeremy allegedly hosted a party at McRay’s home while his father was away on vacation.
A woman claimed she was sexually assaulted at the party, and also said Jeremy battered her.
Using this incident as a pretext, Ross filed charges against McRay seeking to end his employment as a police officer, and the police board found cause to fire him, according to the complaint.
“Sgt. McRay was subject to no less than three interrogations, stripped of all police powers when he was place on paid administrative leave pending three internal and criminal investigations in less than 12 months, brought up on charges seeking his termination before the Village of Bolingbrook Board of Fire and Police Commission, suspended without pay pending the outcome of the hearing before the Village of Bolingbrook Board of Fire and Police Commission and ultimately terminated in retaliation for his continued association with Jeremy,” the lawsuit states.
McRay asserts that he would not have been disciplined so harshly if he were white.
“Upon information and belief, the Village has a history and custom and practice of disciplining African-American employees of the police department more harshly than non- African-American employees who were similarly-situated,” he says.
The former officer seeks punitive damages for retaliation, conspiracy and violation of his right to equal protection. He is represented by Laura L. Scarry with DeAno and Scarry in Chicago.
The Village of Bolingbrook did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.