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Testimony in discrimination case centers on internal disagreements in Richmond police

on March 11, 2012

In recent years, the Richmond Police Department has been riven with discord between sworn and civilian employees, mediation meetings undertaken in bad faith and at least one internal dispute over whether to count a dead body in Richmond as part of the city’s homicide total, according to two witnesses’ testimony Friday.

Human Relations Manager Leslie Knight concluded her third day of testimony in the discrimination lawsuit filed by seven African American officers against Chief Chris Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city of Richmond. Former crime data analyst Lori Hill-Espinosa was later called by plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Jaffe.

Knight testified that she and Magnus met with several of the plaintiffs on Dec. 5, 2006, with the aim of resolving their complaints, which included allegations that they were subjected to racially insensitive banter and were being victimized by workplace discrimination.

Six days later, Knight testified, the plaintiffs submitted formal workplace discrimination complaints. Knight also learned that the officers had already retained legal counsel.

“(The plaintiffs were) deceitful and disingenuous,” Knight said. “If we had known about (the complaints) and the lawyers, we would probably not have even had that meeting without the presence of their attorneys.”

Hill-Espinosa, a former civilian employee, testified Friday that the department’s crime records system she encountered in 2009 was beset with problems.

In a Jan. 10, 2010 memo to department leaders, including Magnus, Hill-Espinosa recommend better, more formalized training to reduce mis-categorization of crime.

In another memo dated May 3, 2010, Hill-Espinosa complained that “85 to 90 percent of reports had to go back to records department because of indexing errors.”

The rate was “extraordinarily high,” she testified Friday.

Under questioning from Jaffe, Hill-Espinosa said she resigned in September 2010, shortly after filing a hostile workplace complaint against Magnus and Deputy Chief Ed Medina. Hill-Espinosa did not elaborate on the reasons for her complaint.

Hill-Espinosa did say that she had a sharp disagreement with department brass over homicide records. She said a “body dump” occurred, in which someone was found dead in a vehicle within city limits.

“I said you must claim the homicide per Uniform Crime Reporting rules,” Hill-Espinosa said.

She said investigation captains and Magnus received her memos on the topic, but declined to include the death in the city’s homicide total. There was no specific description in court of the homicide in question.

But there was a well-publicized, multi-county police pursuit in September 2010, in which a suspect’s female passenger was killed while riding in a car. The man fled the car, leaving the dead woman inside, just after crossing into Richmond’s city limits. The death was not reported as part of Richmond’s homicide total. Whether that incident was the one referred to in court Friday is unknown.

Contacted late Friday, Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan responded to an inquiry about why the death would not be counted in the city’s homicide total: “While I cannot comment on any allegations made during court proceedings, I want to defend the Police Department’s approach to compiling crime rate data, analyzing that data and reporting it to the Department of Justice. Our CompStat model is designed to give us a clear indication of the crime rate so we can deploy our officer and crime prevention resources.”

In other testimony, Hill-Espinosa said she was warned by Magnus that her word “didn’t carry any weight” with sworn personnel, and that there were still deep “biases” in the department between sworn and civilian workers that Magnus was trying to fix.

In a sharp exchange between Knight and Jaffe, Jaffe tried to press Knight that she took sides against one of his clients, Lt. Johan Simon, by disciplining him based on what others said, without getting Simon’s side of the story.

Simon had been put on an administrative leave and under watch after making what Ritter and Magnus said were threatening statements about Officer Ken Greco. Greco had lodged a complaint against Simon, accusing Simon of sexual harassment. The accusation was later found to be baseless.

“You heard about (Simon’s alleged threat of Greco) from Dep. Chief Ritter, and you testified it’s your job to listen to both sides. But at that point, before deciding to convene the threat assessment team you didn’t listen to both sides, did you?” Jaffe asked.

“Sir, I invoked the policy,” Knight replied.

“Before you decided to invoke the policy, did you listen to Lt. Simon’s side of the story?” Jaffe said.

“Sir, no I did not. I did what I thought was best for the city and put (Simon) off the property” per the threat assessment policy.

Testimony is set to resume at 10 a.m. Monday.

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