Ritter testifieds for a second day in Richmond discrimination suit
on March 2, 2012
During her second day of testimony in the discrimination lawsuit against herself, Police Chief Chris Magnus and the city of Richmond, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter testified that she wanted more diversity in the department’s upper ranks.
“When I was deputy chief, the command staff was African American men and myself,” Ritter said. “I wanted to see more gender diversity.”
Ritter’s response was to a question from defense attorney Jeffrey Spellberg, who represents Ritter, Magnus and the city. Attorneys for both sides questioned Ritter repeatedly about her earlier deposition statements regarding diversity in the department. In her deposition statements, Ritter appeared to acknowledge that in her desire for “diversity” she meant groups other than African Americans, who dominated the department’s upper ranks at the time. But in court on Wednesday, Ritter said her statements during her deposition were in part due to her being “badgered” by Tom Dolan, the attorney who was representing the plaintiff’s at that point, who has since been replaced by Stephen Jaffe.
Seven high ranking African American police officials filed suit in 2007 alleging they were thwarted in advancement through the ranks by Magnus and Ritter and subjected to racially-tinged comments and jokes by Magnus. The trial opened on January 17 and is expected to last through April.
During wide-ranging testimony Wednesday, Ritter also discussed disciplinary measures against some of the defendants, a controversial story she told at a community meeting, a tense meeting at a management retreat, perceptions that she harbored racial animus toward African Americans, and difficulties she encountered in attempting to impose Magnus’ community policing plan, which he brought to the department when he took the helm in 2006. Most of Ritter’s testimony Wednesday was under Spellberg’s examination, as the attorney sought to show his client as a victim of insubordinate plaintiffs who used Ritter in part as a pretext for their suit.
Testimony at one point centered on an investigation into the actions of Lt. Johan Simon, one of the plaintiffs and a decorated veteran of the department.
In 2006, an officer, Ken Greco, lodged a complaint against Simon for comments he allegedly made complimenting the appearance of a female officer. After investigating the complaint, Ritter testified, she found that no harassment occurred. But Simon, she said, later made angry and threatening statements about Greco.
“I’m going bonkers … I am just going to go off on [Greco]. You’re not going to like what happens,” Simon said, according to notes, which were displayed to the jury, Ritter took of a meeting she had with Simon.
“I took it as potentially a threatening statement to officer Greco’s safety,” Ritter said, adding that based on the interview Magnus sent Simon home on administrative leave. Simon returned to work the next day.
The plaintiffs have alleged that the discipline and investigation may have been in retaliation for earlier dust-ups between Simon and his co-plaintiffs and the discrimination lawsuit against Ritter and Magnus, which was rumored to be in the works.
During another part of her testimony, Ritter answered questions about a story she told community members about a young girl she met while patrolling in North Richmond in the 1990s. Ritter admitted that when telling the story to community members in 2006 she mimicked the girl’s broken speech in an effort to illustrate a point that police were dealing with a culture of poverty in the city. The plaintiffs allege this episode was indicative of Ritter’s attitude toward African Americans.
“Were you intending to criticize her lack of grammar?” Spellberg asked.
“I wanted to show the failings she had. She had no objective in my mind other than to get pregnant. I was very serious about this issue. We had failed the generation,” Ritter said.
On imposing Magnus’ community-policing plan – which favored officers’ relationship building in neighborhoods over proactive mobile patrols across the city – Ritter said there was a new directive requiring sign-ups for overtime shifts to be given first to officers looking to work in their regional beats. The policy was designed to encourage greater time investment by patrol officers in the neighborhoods in which they specialized.
One of the plaintiffs, Sgt. James Jenkins, signed up for overtime in certain neighborhoods before officers who were assigned to those neighborhoods had a chance, Ritter testified. Ritter said that after a complaint from another officer, she authorized the officer to remove Jenkins’ name.
“I told the officer he could erase Jenkins’ name, yes,” Ritter said. After a second incident in which Jenkins again allegedly signed up out of turn, Ritter reported the problem to a commander in charge of overtime sign ups.
“You thought that was the end of it?” Spellberg said.
“Yes,” Ritter said.
The officer who Ritter authorized to erase Jenkins’ name was Armando Moreno, who is Latino.
Ritter also testified about her attendance at a 2006 management retreat in Napa at which tensions in the department resulted in angry words between the chief and his staff, and several of the plaintiffs openly questioned Magnus and accused Ritter of being a racist.
The next week, Ritter said, she initiated a meeting with several of the plaintiffs to address their accusations.
The plaintiffs complained that Ritter seemed to be in a “clique” with mostly white officers, that she only went to lunch with white and female colleagues, and that she made little effort to visit their offices and engage them in conversation.
Ritter said she told her African American colleagues she would try to change that, and that she went to lunch with Lt. Alec Griffin and Capt. Eugene McBride, one of the plaintiffs, a short time later.
But the lunch meetings didn’t last, she said. “The next couple times I asked they weren’t available, and then I kind of petered out.”
Testimony will resume Monday.
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