PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A black cop can pursue claims that the city turned a blind eye as white officers wrote “insulting, disgusting and racist postings” about her on the website Domelights.com, a federal judge ruled.
One post called the plaintiff, Shanda White, a “monkey, primate, gorilla … who drug her knuckles on the ground.” It was published after two white officers nearly hit her son with a police car and then falsely arrested her.
Domelights.com is a website “that allows and encourages racist postings concerning African-Americans and African American police officers to the Internet message boards,” according to the complaint. “White police officers use Domelights.com at work, in front of African-American police officers, and discuss the contents of this racist website, make jokes about it, and just simply say the word: ‘Domelights.'”
Though Domelights writers use anonymous screen names, White says claims it is well known within the Police Department that the writers are a group of white officers. The site takes its name from the police lights on top of a police vehicle.
Domelights.com is operated and moderated by an individual known only as “Sgt. McQ,” who profits off the site by selling accessories branded with the Domelights name and logo, according to the complaint.
“The city of Philadelphia in allowing … a group of white Philadelphia police officers … to operate … a blatantly racist, ant-minority, disgusting and offensive public Internet website called Domelights.com … has created a racially harassing and hostile work environment,” White claims.
Fellow officers have allegedly openly discussed Domelights posts about White that include “comments comparing her to a monkey or an ape and indicating that she was stupid or unintelligent because of her ethnicity.
White says the posts about her first appeared in June 2009 as a police car driving in a pedestrian area “came very close” to striking her son. When White approached the officers, Javier Montinez and Anthony Space, to warn them about nearby children, the men exited the car.
They allegedly asked, “Who the fuck are you yelling at? … I don’t give a fuck who you are. If you are a cop, what the fuck are you doing in the projects?”
Though White was wearing a cast, one of the officers grabbed her, threw her onto two nearby cars and arrested her, according to the complaint.
White claims that “there is no First Amendment Safe Harbor for racially discriminatory conduct against African Americans that takes place at, is connected to and creates a hostile work environment in the workplace.”
“Moreover, a police officer is subject to a higher standard of conduct and speech while on duty, as well as whenever such sworn police officer is in a public forum,” according to the complaint.
Agreeing that the complaint failed to identify a causal nexus between Philadelphia’s alleged failure to train and White’s alleged injury, U.S. District Judge J. O’Neill dismissed that claim without prejudice last week,
“The complaint fails to allege that the city’s failure to provide a specific type of training caused her exposure to harmful content on domelights.com,” he wrote. “Some of the allegedly absent types of training, such as ‘the use of force’ and ‘good cause,’ have no causal nexus with racial harassment arising from domelights.com. Other alleged forms of training, such as ‘evaluation of character,’ federal and state law and police officers’ ‘use of power’ are so general that they fail to satisfy plaintiff’s obligation to ‘identify a failure to provide specific training.'”
White can amend this claim to show how the failure to provide specific training harmed her.
Since police never pursued criminal charges against White, the judge dismissed her claims of malicious and selective prosecution with prejudice.
White’s claims of hostile work environment on the basis of race survived dismissal, however, as did her civil rights claims against Sgt. McQ and the unknown defendants.