A Richmond Police captain described a command staff so toxic with animus and distrust that by the time the chief hosted a September 2006 management meeting aimed at easing tensions, a lawsuit was inevitable.
“What we didn’t know was (the plaintiffs) already had attorneys,” Capt. Mark Gagan testified Monday. “I went into the Napa retreat hoping to find resolution, and I was shocked when we imploded. I realized the meeting was orchestrated, manufactured to foster this lawsuit.”
Seven high-ranking African American police officials are suing Police Chief Chris Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city for alleged discriminatory promotion practices, intimidation and racists banter in 2006-7. Before the plaintiffs rested their case, several witnesses accused Magnus and Ritter, who are both white, of colluding to block them from coveted positions and making a series of racist comments in their presence.
Gagan, a defense witness, provided some of the most explosive testimony thus far in a trial that has dragged on since early January. A media relations specialist for the Richmond Police Department, Gagan delivered verbose testimony laced with allegations. Gagan accused some of the plaintiffs by name of various incidents of intimidation, conspiracy and sabotage aimed at toppling Magnus and Ritter.
But over two days of testimony separated by the weekend recess, Gagan turned the tables toward the plaintiffs. Gagan testified that before the city hired Magnus – a transplant from Fargo, N.D. – Lieutenants Arnold Threets and Cleveland Brown already aimed to undermine whoever came out of the final six-candidate applicant pool.
“(Threets) said he looked at those candidates and knew none could run our department and especially the one at with the goofy haircut,” meaning Magnus, Gagan testified.
Once Magnus was aboard, things got worse, Gagan testified.
Gagan, who is white, said that soon after Magnus was installed, Brown and Capt. Eugene McBride invited him to Casper’s Hot Dog restaurant for lunch. Gagan said he ate, but his two companions did not, instead spending their time asking why the “chief was being so hard” on them and seeking information about the community policing policies Magnus was implementing. The meeting was in May or June 2006, Gagan said.
As they were walking back to the office, Gagan said, Brown made a comment he found disturbing.
“Cleveland (Brown) said the ‘revolution won’t be televised,’” Gagan said.
At the Napa retreat in September 2006, the hostilities escalated, Gagan testified. Several of the plaintiffs, seated at a long conference table, said a perception existed in the department that Ritter was a racist, Gagan said.
But Gagan said he found the allegations specious because they were mostly “generalities,” other than a claim that Ritter had joked that Brown should “tap dance” at a management meeting a year earlier, a crack for which Ritter apologized to Brown personally.
But at the meeting, Gagan said, he saw a united “assault” against Ritter.
“I saw (Ritter) breathing through her mouth” when the plaintiffs accused her of racism at the retreat, Gagan said. “That’s what people do when they are near shock … She was harmed by what happened in that meeting.”
The plaintiffs lodged discrimination complaints in December 2006, and their lawsuit in March 2007.
On the day the complaints were filed, Dec. 12, 2006, Gagan said he was surprised when he came to work and saw news crews swarming the department’s parking lot. Reporters told him they were there for a press conference where serious allegations would be made against the chief, Gagan said.
By 3 p.m., Christopher Dolan, the plaintiffs’ attorney at the time, held a press conference accusing Magnus, Ritter and the city of discriminating against his clients. Gagan testified Monday that he believed the plaintiffs hoped to topple the chief and Ritter in a bold one-two stroke – the complaints and the press conference.
“They thought the chief would run away,” Gagan said.
Gagan testified that after the press conference he escorted a reporter to Magnus’ office for an interview in response to the charges.
After he left the reporter with Magnus, Gagan said, one of the plaintiffs, Lt. Shawn Pickett, saw him as he was walking down a hall and called him a name.
“What did he call you?” asked defense attorney Geoffrey Spellberg.
“A little snitch bitch,” Gagan said.
Gagan testified that he had other tense interactions with Pickett, interactions not revealed in earlier testimony. Days after the December 2006 press conference, Gagan said, Pickett boasted to him that the press conference was like hitting the chief with a “sledgehammer,” and suggested that co-plaintiffs Lt. Johan Simon and Threets were the rightful chief and deputy chief, respectively.
Gagan also testified that weeks later, on Jan. 4, 2007, he had another sharp exchange with Pickett, this time after Gagan had given a lengthy interview to a Los Angeles Times reporter. The interview factored into an article that explored how Magnus’ community policing programs and technology upgrades contributed to a crime reduction.
Gagan and Pickett, who at that time was in charge of the department’s detective bureau, spoke near the scene of a homicide in the 2100 block of Roosevelt Ave., Gagan said.
“I saw Shawn park (his car) and start walking towards me and I could see his body language and demeanor was very aggressive and hostile,” Gagan said. “He was like ‘what the hell, what the hell? What were you saying in the media?’”
Gagan continued: “I remember him saying ‘that was bullshit you little kiss ass. That was bullshit,’” Gagan said. “And then he says, ‘the chief isn’t responsible for any of the crime (reductions), my detectives are.’”
Gagan said he was shocked at the exchange, which took place about 50 feet from the homicide victim’s body.
“Did (Pickett) make any threats to you?” Spellberg asked.
“Yes. He said you better watch your back or we’re going to pull your pants down in a deposition,” Gagan said, adding that he took that as a threat of future litigation.
Under cross-examination from Jonathan Matthews, who is representing plaintiff Cleveland Brown, Gagan said he had conversations with Ritter about a license plate on her truck. In earlier testimony, other witnesses have said that Ritter had a license plate frame that said “I am a Richmond Cowgirl,” a reference the plaintiffs allege is a racially-charged ode to “The Cowboys,” a clique of white Richmond police officers at the center of a discrimination suit against the department in the early 1980s. A multimillion-dollar judgment was levied against the city in that case.
“Did (Ritter) tell you she had a license plate that said ‘I am a Richmond Cowgirl?” Matthews asked.
“That or something to that effect, I don’t remember the exact words,” Gagan said, adding that he never heard Ritter demonstrate racist behavior in more than 10 years working with her.
Also under Matthews’ cross-examination, Gagan accused the plaintiffs of secretly recording the Napa meeting for use in their lawsuit, an accusation that has not been proved.
“Not only do I think they orchestrated the Napa retreat, I think they audio recorded it,” Gagan said.