The discrimination lawsuit brought by an African-American police sergeant that accuses the San Diego Police Department of racial discrimination and harassment will move forward, according to a Friday, April 29, court ruling.
Superior Court judge Joel Wohlfeil denied a motion submitted by attorneys for the city to seal records as well as for summary judgment of a January 2015 lawsuit from Sgt. Arthur Scott.
Scott joined the force in 2004. In the ten years after joining, Scott received numerous awards and accolades from his superiors. That changed in 2014 when he began complaining about racism inside the police force.
The allegations of racism included complaints that police instructors used racist materials during mandatory training sessions. One such item, as first reported by the Reader, was an early-1900s cartoon that ran in the San Diego Sun: it depicted San Diego's first African-American police officer, Frank McCarter, as "ape-like, carrying a large pistol and brandishing an oversize police baton."
Scott's attorneys also submitted documents showing San Diego police officers had complained over posters of President Obama and submitted complaints that there were "too many black supervisors" in the Southeastern Division and "too many black faces" on a mural at a police substation.
Shortly after Scott began submitting his complaints he was passed over for a promotion and then transferred to a different division. During that same time his superiors threatened to open an investigation into Scott's handling of a mentally unstable man who was brandishing a sword — the investigation never occurred. Scott was also accused of driving to his home while he was on duty. No follow-up action was taken.
But attorneys for the city asked that the training materials, complaints, and other evidence be kept from the public.
Judge Wohlfeil denied the request.
"[City] has not shown that...(1) There exists an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the record; (2) The overriding interest supports sealing the record; (3) A substantial probability exists that the overriding interest will be prejudiced if the record is not sealed; (4) The proposed sealing is narrowly tailored; and (5) No less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interest."
In his ruling, Wohlfeil says that the timing of investigations into Scott's service is enough to move the case forward.
"[Scott's] proffered employment evaluations were very complimentary, and suggested that [he] was an 'up and comer' with potential for advancement. However, starting primarily in mid-2014, Plaintiff began lodging complaints regarding perceived racial issues. Within a few months thereafter, he became the subject of criticism and investigations. This proximity in time is sufficient to demonstrate a causal connection such that [Scott] has satisfied his prima facie burden. The burden now shifts to city to demonstrate a legitimate reason for each instance of adverse employment action."