Lt. Whitney: ‘We screwed up as an agency’ in ’08 investigations
on March 4, 2012
A Richmond Police lieutenant on Thursday testified that systemic failures within the department were to blame for a botched investigation into serious crimes in the city.
Lt. Charles “Chuck” Whitney testified he is friends with the seven high-ranking African American officers who are suing the city, Chief Chris Magnus and former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter, and that he was concerned about retaliation for his testimony. Whitney was called to the stand by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The discrimination case, which has cost the city more than $4 million in legal costs, opened in Martinez Superior Court on January 17.
But the biggest revelations, and the sharpest exchanges with defense counsel Jeffrey Spellberg, centered on questions about investigations Whitney conducted as the lead internal affairs detective in 2007-8.
After reports of unspecified problems with the investigation of two serious crimes – a December 2008 gang rape of a woman in the Belding Woods neighborhood and a violent assault of a man in the Hilltop area in early 2009 – Whitney was ordered to investigate what happened.
Whitney was reluctant to answer questions from either counsel for fear of divulging personnel information about his fellow officers, and only did so when compelled by the judge.
“We are gonna dance here, Jeff,” Whitney said at one point, as Spellberg continued to press him on the details of his investigation.
“My opinion was we screwed up as an agency [in handling these crimes], but that these individuals were getting investigated by IA for suing the department.”
During later testimony, Spellberg drew out further description from Whitney, hinting at allegations of failure of timely communications up the chain of command in responding to the crimes.
Spellberg noted that only two of at least eight officers CC’d on a later memo from Magnus – which announced the investigation had concluded – were plaintiffs in the case, Lts. Shawn Pickett and Johan Simon.
“Was it part of your thinking that you should not investigate this because these were the defendants?” Spellberg asked.
“It was totality of the circumstances, Jeff,” Whitney said. “We screwed up and now we’re investigating these individuals … it was a training issue, not a personnel matter to go and IA these individuals. That’s my opinion.”
Later, Spellberg focused on the basis for an investigation. Whitney maintained that the situation was influenced by “politics.”
Whitney called the investigation he was ordered to perform a “quagmire.”
“Isn’t it true, lieutenant, that the finding by the chief was that there had been a failure of policy and/or of training?” Spellberg asked.
“That’s how the chief closed it out. That’s what I know,” Whitney said.
In earlier testimony Thursday, Ritter concluded her third day on the stand by answering questions from jurors that were read by the judge. Among the questions was an inquiry into an incident in which Ritter told a story to a community gathering at Hilltop Mall in 2008 where she related a conversation she said she had with a preteen girl in North Richmond.
Using a slang-English dialect, Ritter mimicked the phrases she said at the meeting, which the plaintiffs have used as an alleged example of her racist behavior.
“’I don’t need no education I just waiting till I’m old enough to get pregnant so I can get my welfare monies,’ that was it,” Ritter said. Ritter previously testified that the exchange had a profound influence on her outlook that “we had failed these children.”
Ritter, who has denied allegations of being a racist and conspiring with Magnus to impede the advance of African American officers, also testified that she knows firsthand the feeling of discrimination. Another juror question asked about whether Ritter felt gender discrimination after she was hired in 1981.
“Early on, yes. But it was one of those things … when you got hired they basically told you were going to be discriminated against, harassed. You were aware before you started.”
“Why didn’t you sue,” the question continued.
“I guess because I was told it was a man’s world. I put my head down and worked hard and wanted to do my best.”
Whitney is expected to be on the stand when proceedings resume Monday.
Richmond Confidential welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Richmond Confidential assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.
Please send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.