The City Council approved $900,000 Tuesday to continue to defend the city in two civil rights lawsuits filed by a group of high-ranking Richmond police officers, adding to a legal battle that has already gone on for five years and cost $3.4 million.
Eight African American officers sued the city and Police Chief Chris Magnus, alleging that Magnus and former Deputy Police Chief Lori Ritter prevented the African American officers from receiving promotions and engaged in racist banter.
The Employment Risk Management Authority, a statewide insurance group for public agencies, has covered $1.9 million of the total $4.3 million cost, including the payment approved Tuesday, Assistant City Attorney Bruce Soublet said. The city’s $2.4 million came from the fund of its Human Resources Management Department Risk Management Division.
Police Commissioner Bea Roberson expressed her displeasure when the City Council discussed the new payment Tuesday night.
“Can this just be settled?” Roberson said. “Come on, it is just going to the lawyers!”
The new payment of $900,000 is the fifth amendment of a contract with the Oakland-based law firm Meyers, Nave Riback, Silver & Wilson, which has represented the city in the two lawsuits since 2007. According to the City Council staff report from City Attorney Randy Riddle, the contract started in November 2009 and the first $850,000 was spent by December 2010. Four amendments raising the limit of payments were approved, adding $1 million to the contract over the next two years. The newest payment will retain the firm until the end of 2012. Soublet said he hoped both lawsuits would be over by that time.
The state case is scheduled for trial on Jan. 9, 2012. The federal case does not yet have a trial date.
Soublet said that before the first case was filed in 2007, the city had already spent about $500, 000 on two San Francisco based law firms. These two firms investigated the complaints in the Police Department before the officers brought them to courts. After the cases were filed, the Employment Risk Management Authority covered another $950,000 in legal costs to deal with both of the lawsuits from March 2007 to November 2009.
Police Lieutenant Arnold Threets, one of the litigants against the city, said he wished the lawsuit had been settled years ago. Threets, like the City Council, is under a gag order issued by Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the United States District Court in San Francisco, and could not comment on whether a settlement was discussed or how much was discussed.
Although the council couldn’t comment on the case itself, Councilmember Jeff Ritterman said he expected – and wanted — a trial.
“We are going to bring these two cases to trial, ” he said. “That will discourage other people from suing the city. We don’t settle because the case does not have merit on the other side.”
The eight original plaintiffs in both federal and state court were Captains Alec Griffin and Eugene McBride, Lts. Threets, Cleveland Brown, Michael Booker, Shawn Pickett and Johan Simon, and Sgt. James Jenkins.
Seven of the eight officers still work in the Richmond Police Department, and the eight officers earned an average annual gross salary of $182,542 last year.
Griffin dropped the case and retired from the department this July. Soublet said Griffin’s retirement had no connection with his withdrawal from the case.
Brown was demoted from captain to lieutenant last year, according to city records. Both sides of the lawsuit refused to comment on Brown’s demotion.