Amid racial strife, Magnus hit resistance in imposing his program

magnus and lori ritter

Chris Magnus and Lori Ritter leave court during the lunch hour last week. (Robert Rogers/RichmondConfidential)

When he took the helm in early 2006, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus looked to impose his geographically centered policing strategy in a department accustomed to mobile crime suppression teams and cleaved with persistent racial division.

“Unfortunately our department is greatly segregated,” then-Captain Ed Medina wrote in a memo reviewed by Magnus in 2006. “We are still separated by race (minority officers associations, etc.) which continually drives wedges between groups.”

Magnus’s third day of testimony in Contra Costa County Superior Court Tuesday focused largely on his actions in reorganizing the department. Magnus drew outcry within the upper ranks as he moved to implement new promotion processes in a prestigious investigation unit and install a new policing model that valued links between officers and neighborhoods over roving police teams, called Violence Suppression Units.

Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city of Richmond are defendants in a discrimination lawsuit brought by seven high-ranking black officers. The plaintiffs have previously testified that Magnus made inappropriate racial comments, stymied black officers poised for promotions and tapped Ritter, whom they say is a racist, to be his number 2 in the command chain.

Under questioning from Stephen Jaffe, the plaintiff’s lead attorney, Magnus said a “Patrol Deployment Action Plan” prepared by command staff officials before his arrival highlighted a fundamental difference between his vision and those shared by many of the veteran officers who became his subordinates. The document, which Jaffe said was prepared by two of the plaintiffs, Capt. Eugene McBride and Lt. Johan Simon, included prescriptions for committing to the use of Violence Suppression Units within future policing strategies.

“VSU cannot be abandoned in order to supplement those teams that are problem solving,” the document read.

Magnus said that conflicted with his direction.

“On the face (VSU) sounds like a good concept, but it often ends up really alienating the community,” Magnus said. “Right off the bat I got a lot of pressure not to change this VSU component of the department.”

Jaffe showed the jury Medina’s notes on racial divisions, which Medina wrote in response to a questionnaire posed to police officials asking what was the top “internal problem facing the department.”

Despite the clear signs of discord, Jaffe said, Magnus embarked on a selection process for two new deputy chiefs – the second-highest rank in the department – that did little to dispel concerns of unfairness and bias.

Jaffe noted that Magnus had gone to great lengths to impose new requirements for applicants to the Investigative Services Division (ISD), criteria that some African American officers saw as aimed at excluding them, yet did not apply similar rigor to his selections for deputy chiefs.

“Was it important that the deputy chief appointment process be fair?” Jaffe asked.

Magnus said civil service promotions to ISD and his picks for two deputies amounted to an “apples and oranges” comparison.

“Fairness was less important here, to be frank,” Magnus said, adding that he did not conduct interviews or make notes regarding potential deputy chiefs, but instead had “conversations” with various people before settling on Ritter and Medina in April 2006.

“I felt I was fair,” Magnus said. “I could have walked in the door and selected someone from Lansing, Michigan.”

Jaffe’s questioning of Magnus is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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