SAN DIEGO (CN) – A 12-member jury found Thursday that a black San Diego police officer was not retaliated against by his superiors when he was passed up for promotions after speaking out against racism within the department, but the city’s negative characterization of the officer left a bad impression on jurors.
Sgt. Art Scott, 45, sued the San Diego Police Department in 2015 on claims of discrimination and retaliation stemming from incidents involving racist cartoons posted in a police department locker room, as well as a 1909 cartoon of the city’s first black police officer that was used during training.
The jury, which had no black members and was made up of six men and six women, found while Scott was not retaliated against when he was passed up for two promotions after complaining about racism in the department, an internal investigation against him was an adverse employment action.
Ultimately, the jury unanimously found Scott was not retaliated against by police department leaders for speaking out about what he believed was racism. He received no damages.
The case stemmed from Scott’s claims in 2011 that someone posted racist pictures in the police locker room that depicted President Barack Obama as an African chief with the word “Obamacare” underneath. Scott complained to a supervising lieutenant, who told him he was being “hyper sensitive.” The pictures were eventually taken down, but no one knows who removed them.
The sergeant later complained in 2014 about a racist cartoon depicting the department’s first black police officer, Frank McCarter, as an ape, using racial slurs to describe Asian-Americans. The cartoon was displayed in San Diego’s police museum and shown to officers during a training visit.
Scott said higher-ups within the department agreed the image should not be shown during police training, but the assistant police chief strongly disputed the cartoon was racist. After Scott complained about the images, he said he was passed up for promotions and transferred to another division in a retaliatory move by department leaders.
Outside Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright’s courtroom, the jury foreman spoke directly to Scott and his attorney Dan Gilleon to share jurors were very emotional over the way the city treated such a decorated officer like Scott.
Foreman Steven Conn said jurors developed “a profound respect for Scott” especially because his career goals were centered on serving and helping to improve the Southeastern San Diego neighborhood he grew up in. While Conn said jurors believed Scott complained about the racist cartoons in good faith, they couldn’t substantiate Scott’s retaliation claims based off the evidence presented during the 15-day trial.
City Attorney George Schaefer said the jurors took their time in deliberating and delivered a “very just verdict.” He also noted the heightened emotions the case brought out, especially when Scott testified about McCarter being his hero. Scott cried on the stand, and so did three jurors, Schaefer said.
Gilleon told reporters outside the courtroom the case was never about money, which was evidenced by Scott declining to request a specific damages award at the start of the trial. Over the course of the two-year-long litigation, the city “attacked” Scott’s character, Gilleon said, which jurors told him “rubbed them the wrong way.”
Gilleon said jurors needed 15 minutes to “compose themselves” before the verdict was read because of their heightened emotions. He said he hoped the case would “expose the way the police department does not tolerate people who complain.”
After the verdict, Scott said he plans to stay with the SDPD until he retires and that he’s planning to enroll in law school next fall and eventually practice civil rights and constitutional law. He said he hopes SDPD leaders reflect on his case and address racism within the department.
“This isn’t about money,” Scott said. “It’s sad it has to come to this, that leadership doesn’t understand there’s racism in the police department… No one should be afraid to speak out no matter what rank they are.”