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Testimony in discrimination suit highlights emails of former deputy chief

on February 17, 2012

During six weeks of testimony in the racial discrimination lawsuit against the city of Richmond, one name has come up again and again: that of Lori Ritter, the former Deputy Chief of police.

Ritter is named in the lawsuit as a defendant, along with the city and police Chief Chris Magnus. The seven plaintiffs—all black commanders within the police department—have alleged that Magnus and Ritter thwarted the advancement of black officers and cracked racist jokes. The city’s lawyers contend that the plaintiffs sued to undermine a new police chief who threatened their power within the department and sought to implement a new, more progressive policing model.

But both sides agree that a particular flashpoint came in the spring of 2006, when Magnus decided to promote Ritter to the newly-created position of Deputy Chief (along with current Deputy Chief Ed Medina). Magnus himself had just been hired from Fargo, N.D. in January, 2006. When he joined the department, there were three captains, then the second-ranking position: Cleveland Brown and Eugene McBride – both now plaintiffs – and Ritter.

The plaintiffs have testified that Ritter had a reputation for racism and favored her own “clique” within the department. Brown has testified that Magnus favored Ritter from the outset, excluding the two black captains. Magnus, meanwhile, testified last week that Brown objected to serving under a white woman.

But Ritter, who has retired from the department and now lives in South Carolina, hasn’t yet testified herself. She is the one major player who has not yet taken the stand to present her point of view.

On Wednesday, the jury got a hint of her take on dynamics within the department.

While questioning Magnus, who was in his fourth day on the stand, Jonathan Matthews, the attorney for plaintiff Cleveland Brown, displayed segments of an email Ritter sent Magnus in December, 2005, just before Magnus took over as police chief. Magnus asked all command staff to answer a survey of ten questions. Ritter’s response ran thirteen pages long.

One question asked about communication within the department.

“The question begs for the definition of what type of ‘communication’ you are referring to,” Ritter wrote. “We have instant communication of rumor and innuendo. The agenda for an allegedly confidential meeting of command staff personnel can be heard through the hallways before the last person has left the conference room.”

“However, on the serious side, we do not have good methods of communication when it comes to sharing the vision and goals of the department.”

Ritter wrote that she felt excluded from command decisions made by the Interim Chief, Terry Hudson, and the two other captains—McBride and Brown. Ritter had been the only permanent captain until Hudson promoted McBride and Brown. Brown testified earlier in the trial that Ritter had opposed their promotion, arguing that the decision should be left to the incoming chief.

Magnus also testified earlier during the trial that at a staff retreat in Napa in late 2006, Ritter said that she felt that she had been excluded in part because she was a woman.

In the email displayed Wednesday, Ritter wrote “I feel there is a lack of communication both up and down the chain of command. For me personally, due to the dynamics of the command staff, I was excluded from the majority of the day to day discussions that took place over breakfast or lunch.”

“Even though it was understandable that the other two captains and the chief were longstanding friends, this practice became frustrating,” Ritter wrote. “I absolutely believed in being loyal to the office of the Chief of police, and I strongly try to support the directives that emanate from that office, but this is difficult to do if you first hear about a policy decision via the hallway rumors.”

Within months of the change in leadership, Ritter faced nearly identical charges of exclusion and discrimination.

She is expected to take the stand at the end of the month. Testimony in the trial resumes next Thursday.



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