Three days after a colleague testifying in the suit against Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus accused plaintiff Lt. Shawn Pickett of trying to intimidate him with name-calling and threats, Pickett re-took the stand, this time in his own defense. His testimony flatly rejected that of Captain Mark Gagan, who on Monday testified that an irate Pickett confronted him several times in 2006-7 in attempts to bully Gagan into distancing himself from the chief of police.
If was just the latest twist in the racial discrimination lawsuit against Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city of Richmond. Pickett and six other high-ranking African American officers filed the suit in 2007, accusing Magnus and Ritter of humiliating them with racial digs and conspiring to block them from further promotion.
Gagan’s two-day testimony, which ended Monday, featured some of the most startling accusations of the trial to come from the defense’s side. Among other testimony, Gagan said Pickett called him a “little snitch bitch” and a “kiss ass,” and warned him to “watch his back.”
The incendiary testimony prompted plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen Jaffe to bring Pickett back to the stand. Pickett testified early in the trial, which began in early January. The sharp clash between Gagan and Pickett has dominated the final week of testimony.
“Captain Gagan testified that you called him — excuse me, jury — a ‘snitch bitch’ on or about December 12, 2006,” Jaffe asked his client in court Thursday. “Did that happen?”
“No,” Pickett said.
“Did you ever call Captain Gagan a ‘kiss ass?’” Jaffe asked.
“No,” Pickett said.
Jaffe also sought to cast a new light on Gagan’s testimony about a tense exchange between Gagan and Pickett just a stone’s throw from a homicide victim’s body in January 2007, three months before Pickett and his co-plaintiffs filed their suit.
Gagan testified that Pickett, incensed over a Los Angeles Times article in which Gagan was quoted, threatened litigation and berated Gagan in the street over what Pickett viewed as a slight to the work of his detectives. Pickett, head of investigations at the time, believed his detectives were due credit for crime reduction, rather than Magnus’ leadership.
Pickett said he did talk with Gagan near the homicide scene in the 2100 block of Roosevelt Ave., and that he was angry about Gagan’s quotes in the newspaper. “I told him that he needed to tell the truth because he would end up in deposition and he would get his pants pulled down, meaning that he would get embarrassed,” Pickett said.
Jaffe also sought to refute Gagan’s testimony about a conversation with Pickett days after the plaintiffs’ December 2006 press conference announcing they had filed formal complaints of racial discrimination.
Gagan testified earlier in the week that Pickett boasted to him that the press conference was like hitting the chief with a “sledgehammer,” and suggested to him that co-plaintiffs Lt. Johan Simon and Arnold Threets were the rightful chief and deputy chief, respectively, and that the other plaintiffs were all poised to move up in rank.
Jaffe chipped away at the likelihood that Pickett would share an alleged strategy with a fellow officer he distrusted.
“What was your level of trust of Captain Gagan after December 12th, 2006?” Jaffe asked.
“I didn’t trust him very much,” Pickett said.
Under defense attorney Arthur Hartinger’s cross examination, Pickett said he went online in early January to read the Los Angeles Times article quoting Gagan. Hartinger and Pickett argued for several minutes over a few sentences of the article, before Hartinger directly accused Pickett of waging a public relations campaign against Magnus to bolster the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.
“Lieutenant, isn’t it true that after you filed your charges against the department you have been reviewing everything you can find to make sure that there was nothing complimentary in the media about Chief Magnus?” Hartinger asked.
“No,” Pickett said.
In later questioning, Pickett again delved into his personal rift with Gagan.
“I do not trust Captain Gagan … Our friendship led to a professional relationship. And based on some of the things he told me, I just didn’t trust him any more,” Pickett said.
Closing arguments in the marathon case are scheduled for Tuesday.