BOSTON (CN) – A Boston police officer who called Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. a “banana-eating jungle monkey” in an email he sent to a Boston Globe columnist says the city and its police commissioner violated his rights by suspending him. Justin Barrett sued the city in Federal Court.
Barrett claims he was “off duty from the Boston Police Department, at a private home and using a privately owned computer” when he sent an email that contained “remarks that were interpreted as racist and sexist.”
Barrett sent the message to Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham on July 22, in response to her July 21 column about Gates’ arrest. Barrett was suspended on July 29.
Gates’ arrest made national news and led to a “beer summit” at the White House with President Barack Obama, Gates and the cop who arrested him.
In his 18-page complaint, Barrett says he has worked with the Boston PD since July 25, 2007, and is “an Army veteran having served in combat in the Global War on Terror.”
In the email, Barrett told the Globe columnist, “Your defense [4th paragraph] of Gates while he is on the phone while being confronted [INDEED] with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and will always be a suspect. His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with police, for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC deserving of his belligerent non-compliance.” (Brackets in original.)
Barrett’s email concludes by telling Abraham her column should have run under the headline, “CONDUCT UNBECOMING A JUNGLE MONKEY – BACK TO ONE’S ROOTS. JB”
Police Commissioner Edward Davis suspended Barrett with pay and sent officers to Barrett’s home to confiscate his badge and gun.
“Barrett’s email was racist and inflammatory,” Davis wrote in a “departmental memorandum and in comments to the global media,” according to Barrett’s complaint. Davis added: “These racist opinions and feelings have no place in this department or in our society and will not be tolerated.”
Mayor Thomas Menino told journalists, “He’s gone. G-o-n-e. I don’t care; it’s like cancer. You don’t keep these cancers around,” according to Barrett’s complaint.
In a press conference the day after the suspension, Davis said Barrett “is entitled to his due process and we will see that process through. There will be a thorough internal affairs investigation and hearing process which will lead to a termination hearing scheduled in the next week to 10 days.” Davis also spoke with Gates to apologize for Barrett’s remarks.
Barrett says his suspension violated due process. He claims that as of Monday,
Aug. 3, he had not received formal notice of the allegations against him; he says that Menino and Davis have “already determined [his] punishment, without any hearing.”
Barrett’s lawyer, Peter Marano, told reporters, “I think the department has taken such an outwardly overproportional response. We have police officers who do heroin, cocaine and keep their job, beat their wives, keep their jobs. The mayor isn’t out on TV saying they’re g-o-n-e.”
In an interview with Boston’s WCVB-TV, Barrett added, “It was a poor choice of words. I did not mean to offend anyone.”
He added, “I am not a racist. I never have been, never will be. I treat people with dignity and respect every time.”
Barrett says the mayor and police commissioner caused him pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, post-traumatic stress, sleeplessness, indignities and embarrassment, degradation, injury to reputation, and restrictions on personal freedom.
He wants them enjoined from decreasing, terminating, or withholding any wages or benefits for the duration of the litigation. He also seeks attorney’s fees and punitive damages.
Barrett also is a captain with the Massachusetts National Guard, a position from which he also has been suspended.
Here is a link to Barrett’s email, as reported by the Boston Globe.