Chief investigator takes stand in Richmond police discrimination trial
on March 16, 2012
The man who conducted an investigation into alleged discrimination in the Richmond Police Department testified Thursday that he was inundated with complaints from both sides of the issue in mid-2007.
Ray Marshall, a Harvard-educated attorney whose firm was paid more than $300,000 by the city for his fact-finding mission, testified that bickering on both sides prolonged his work and impaired the performance of the department.
Seven high-ranking African American police officials are suing Police Chief Chris Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city for alleged discriminatory practices. The city hired Marshall’s firm, Bingham McCutchen, to investigate the allegations.
“Complaints were principally ones coming from the plaintiffs with regard to what they felt from their perspective was an atmosphere of a continued hostile work environment,” Marshall testified. “From the city’s standpoint, [inquiries] were in regard to ‘How can we get this department functioning, how can we do this job, and how is command going to operate in this environment?’”
“Both sides were essentially at loggerheads. My opinion was, you guys have a problem, but I have to write my report,” Marshall continued.
Morning proceedings in the lengthy trial – the first day was Jan. 17 – featured testimony by Marshall and, later, City Manager Bill Lindsay. It was Lindsay’s third straight day on the stand. Lindsay, who hired Magnus in 2006, is the city’s chief executive officer.
Much of Marshall’s testimony was limited to reviewing a few memos and explanations of why he did not use recording devices while conducting interviews for his investigation, which took place from early to mid-2007. The parameters constraining the testimony was so narrow, Judge Barry Goode at one point explained to the jury that having Marshall explain what he learned from plaintiffs and defendants would amount to hearsay.
“The job of figuring out what factually occurred here is yours,” Goode said to the jury.
Marshall’s report has been sealed.
Speaking about why he did not use video or audio recording during hundreds of hours of interviews with about 20 city employees, Marshall said, “I wanted the witnesses to be more comfortable, and it was my belief they would be without being video taped and audio taped. I felt comfortable that I could take accurate notes.”
Lindsay was cross-examined Friday by plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Jaffe. During lengthy exchanges in which an increasingly theatrical Jaffe would ask similar questions and raise his voice, Lindsay tried to explain his handling of the plaintiffs’ complaints and his approval of a city-financed security system at Magnus’ home.
On the point of his responses in 2006-7 to complaints of racial discrimination – the plaintiffs allege that Lindsay did little to address their concerns – Lindsay said city policy was to report complaints up the chain of command, beginning with any city employee’s immediate supervisor.
“You’ve testified that the policy of the city is to resolve complaints at lowest possible level,” Jaffe said. “How can a complaint based on the conduct of chief of police be resolved any level lower than the chief’s supervisor?”
“It may or may not be [resolved] but the policy provides that reporting harassment goes through a chain of command,” Lindsay said.
“Does a sergeant have any power to resolve when a patrol officer reports to him or her racial discrimination by the chief?” Jaffe asked.
“The answer is yes,” Lindsay said. “The sergeant has the power to raise the issue as he or she sees fit, following the chain of command as the policy is stated.”
On the issue of the security system, the exchange between Jaffe and Lindsay was even more confrontational. Linday first testified Thursday that in 2009 he personally approved more than $1,200 in city funds to be used to install and maintain a security system at Magnus’ house. Magnus lives in Richmond, and Lindsay has said the chief reported “credible threats” to his residence. The city still pays a monthly fee to maintain the system.
The plaintiffs have alleged that the actions amount to a misuse of public funds, and indicate a closeness between Lindsay and Magnus that fits a pattern of favoritism in which their own complaints about Magnus were regarded lightly.
Jaffe asked why the city would pay to “enhance the security of a single individual.”
“This was for the benefit of public safety,” Lindsay said. “It was a benefit for Chief Magnus but also in the context for providing a safe environment for the Richmond community … It’s not only a private benefit, but also a public benefit, and I think that neighbors in the neighborhood around Chief Magnus would agree.”
As Lindsay spoke, Jaffe turned toward the public gallery and smiled and raised his eyebrows.
“So private citizens can come and ask for the city to pay for private security systems?” Jaffe asked.
“That’s not what I said,” Linsday said. “In a unique situation … when there is credible threat, it’s something that perhaps on a short term basis the police department might evaluate. … Each unique situation needs to be evaluated.”
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