(CN) – Thirty-nine black police officers say the City of Greensboro, N.C. waged a 3-year campaign to frame, discredit and embarrass them. The officers say the former police chief “directed subordinate officers to gather pictures of black officers of the Greensboro Police Department for the use of line-up books … for the purpose of framing, embarrassing, and wrongfully investigating and charging black officers with crimes”.
The City of Greensboro is the only named defendant in the complaint in Greensboro Federal Court.
The 39 black officers say that former Police Chief David Wray and former Deputy Chief Gilmer Brady ordered black officers’ mug shots be put into the line-up books alongside convicted criminals and criminal suspects, to be shown to members of the public during criminal investigations.
In some instances, this led to the exposure of black officers who were working undercover, the complaint states. The officers say that Wray and Brady routinely used the police Special Investigation Division to carry out illegal, racially motivated investigations of black officers.
The line-up books set off a firestorm of controversy when they became public.
Then-City Manager Mitchell Johnson declared publicly that “If I were a black officer, I would have been damned uncomfortable to be in that book,” according to the complaint. Johnson added: “If I was a black officer, I would certainly feel targeted.”
Police Chief Wray sought to quell the controversy by denying the existence of a “black book” that included the officers’ photographs, according to the complaint.
“I asked all of the chiefs if they had ever heard of such a book and its alleged use; none had any idea what the rumor could refer to,” Wray wrote in a press release reproduced in the complaint. “This rumor continued to confound me, in that the use of a photo array in such a manner would have been absolutely improper and counter to any circumstance I could imagine.”
But the officers say that not only did the book exist, the city manager said it was used to “target black officers.”
“Mr. Johnson publicly announced in January 2006 that there were ‘numerous instances of the [Line-Up Books] being shown to criminal defendants in an attempt to target black officers among the 19 pictured in the book’ and that criminal defendants and/or suspects were told by the police officers who presented the Line-Up Books to such persons, ‘If you ID an officer [in the Line-Up Books], we might help you out.'” (Brackets and bracketed words as in the complaint.)
Johnson ordered an investigation and in January 2006 the city manager locked Wray out of his office, according to story in the Lincoln (N.C.) Tribune.
Wray was ultimately forced to resign.
Nonetheless, the officers say, the “defendant has represented publicly, and continues to the date of this filing to represent publicly, that the line-up books include only uniformed black officers of the Greensboro Police Department who were on duty when an alleged sexual assault by a black officer of the Greensboro Police Department occurred, despite defendant’s knowledge that no such sexual assault … was reported or occurred.”
The officers say the photos included far more black officers than were on duty for the shift in question.
The officers also say that Wray and Brady denied them promotions and other benefits they gave to white officers, such as being chosen to teach marksmanship at local community colleges, teaching at the Greensboro Police Academy, or becoming certified as instructors by the North Carolina Justice Academy.
An investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that all of the plaintiffs were subject to discrimination based on their race, according to the complaint.
The black officers seek a total of $390,000 in compensatory damages, $390,000 in punitive damages, and want the city enjoined from further discriminatory behavior. They also want any information gathered from illegal investigations to be destroyed or maintained separately from their personnel files.
They are represented by Jason Knight and Kenneth Free Jr., and John Bloss with Robertson, Medlin & Blocker, all of Greensboro.