Just how much money have the seven African-American police commanders suing the city of Richmond lost due to alleged discrimination stalling their promotions?
It depends on which economic expert you ask.
Whose numbers the jury buys could heavily weigh the outcome the lawsuit against Police Chief Chris Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city.
In testimony Thursday, a labor economist called by the defense told jurors that the plaintiffs actually stand to benefit, at least financially, from not being promoted to the deputy chief position.
Mark Cohen, an economic consultant, testified that due to overtime and other perks enjoyed by sergeants, lieutenants and captains, the plaintiffs’ recent pay history suggests they would have taken a pay cut if promoted to the deputy chief position, which is paid a base salary.
“The base salary is higher for the deputy chief, but when you look at the compensation packages in their entirety, the result changes,” Cohen said.
Cohen’s testimony stood in contrast to that of Phillip Allman, an economist called by the plaintiffs last week. Allman testified that, based on his numbers, all the plaintiffs will take significant financial hits—as much as $1.5 million for one of them in work and pension earnings—by not being promoted by Chief Magnus.
The difference, Cohen said, was largely because Allman assumed higher base pay for the and higher annual raises for deputy chief.
Whether the plaintiffs were discriminated against in being passed over promotions is a key to the case. Plaintiff’s attorneys Stephen Jaffe and Jonathan Matthews – Matthews is only representing Lt. Cleveland Brown – have argued that Magnus and Ritter, both Caucasians, conspired to freeze African Americans out of top positions and made racially-derogatory comments and jokes. The defense counters that Magnus used fair processes to decide promotions and engaged in nothing more than childish banter.
Cohen testified that Lt. Arnold Threets, for example, earned almost $209,000 last year, thanks in part to working overtime and having a number of incentives to beef up his salary. That’s about $21,000 more than was earned by Deputy Chief Edwin Medina, who was tapped for the promotion by Magnus, according to defense exhibits.
“So he loses money that year if he is promoted to deputy chief?” asked defense attorney Geoffrey Spellberg.
“Yes,” Cohen said.
Under current labor contracts, sworn Richmond police officers and officials can retire after 30 years of service with 90 percent of their highest annual base salary in pension benefits for the rest of their lives. For command lieutenants or higher, that pension often amounts to more than $150,000 per year.
Also Thursday, Medina wrapped his second day on the stand and a retired white female officer testified that Ritter had never displayed racist behavior.
Elizabeth Goyne-Freitas, who retired in 2000, testified that Ritter, whom she called a “mentor and a friend,” was repulsed by anything remotely racially-insensitive.
“I always considered her a champion for the underdog,” Goyne-Freitas said, remarking that Ritter had ascended the ranks as a woman in a male-dominated profession. “She was a role model.”
Goyne-Freitas also went on to accuse plaintiff Brown of routinely using crude racial epithets to refer to whites and blacks. She also accused another plaintiff, Lt. Johan Simon, of making sexually-inappropriately cracks in her presence when they worked together.
Simon was investigated, at Magnus and Ritter’s direction, for making sexually inappropriate remarks in 2007. Simon was cleared of any wrongdoing in that incident.
Brown “was incredibly rude and crude,” Goyne-Freitas said. “He referred to other officers with the N-word, and white officers as ‘crackers’ and ‘peckerwoods.’ [Brown] once referred to a black captain as an ‘Uncle Tom.’”
Under cross-examination, Brown’s attorney, Matthews, pressed Goyne-Freitas on the accusations against his client. Goyne-Freitas said she could not specifically name anyone else who was present when she heard Brown make offensive remarks.
“Why didn’t you just report it?” Matthews asked.
“Report it to who?” Goyne-Freitas said. “It wasn’t like anyone didn’t know. It was hard being a female officer at the time. You didn’t ever want to come across as a victim or a whiner.”
Medina, who is Latino, testified for a short time Thursday morning. Medina said that a “whip cracking” joke had become associated with Ritter because of her “officious” style. The plaintiffs allege that Magnus mimicked whip cracking to humiliate them as African Americans subject to a higher-ranking white female deputy chief.
Medina said the whip cracking was a joke from which he inferred no racial undertones.
“Did you ever see Magnus cracking the whip [gesture]?” Matthews asked.
“I did,” Medina said.