City manager calls Magnus ‘good leader,’ credits him for reforms during testimony in discrimination case
on March 16, 2012
As police command staff officials began peppering his hand-picked police chief with complaints of discrimination, Richmond’s most powerful executive official did all he felt he should do: Initiate an independent investigation, pass the complaints on to his Human Resources manager and issue a department-wide letter reiterating conduct policies.
“I felt like I was doing exactly what I should have done,” Lindsay said in response to questions from Jonathan Matthews, the attorney for one of the seven plaintiffs in the discrimination suit against the city and Police Chief Chris Magnus. “To have an investigator on board and make sure he had unfettered access to department personnel, and having a letter issued from the human resources department that reminded employees what city policy is with regard to retaliation.”
Over the course of his first full day of testimony Thursday, Lindsay explained how he handled growing unrest in the department in 2006-7. Magnus, who is white, was the target of numerous complaints by African American command staff members alleging improper personnel moves and inappropriate racial banter.
The complaints culminated in a lawsuit filed by seven high-ranking African American police officials alleging discrimination by Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city.
Lindsay, the city’s chief executive officer, repeatedly sought to explain his handling of the turmoil in the police department’s upper echelons in late 2006 and early 2007. Complaints poured in, and Lindsay responded by holding meetings with Magnus and some of the plaintiffs, as well as initiating an independent investigation, he testified.
Lindsay met with some of the plaintiffs in December, 2006, seeking to resolve the dispute, he testified. “I left with a very positive impression of the meeting,” Lindsay said. “It was a good discussion.”
But six days later, on Dec. 11, 2006, the plaintiffs filed formal Department of Fair Employment and Housing complaints alleging discrimination, and establishing a legal precedent for their lawsuit. That was filed three months later, in March 2007, before the city’s investigation was completed.
“It was kind of like a sucker punch,” Lindsay testified. “I was extremely disappointed. It really took the wind out of my sails.”
In earlier testimony, Lindsay described how he to took over the top spot in the city in 2005, and inherited a police department then staffed by an interim chief, Terry Hudson. When Hudson wanted to promote plaintiffs Eugene McBride and Cleveland Brown to captain, one councilmember, Maria Viramontes, expressed concern, Lindsay testified.
“Viramontes felt that there was an understanding that promotions should be made by a permanent chief,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay said he reviewed Hudson’s request, and approved the promotions.
Lindsay said he took seriously an intensive recruiting process for a new chief in 2005. What he wanted, Lindsay said, was a candidate who would change the department. “I was looking for somebody who could be a change agent,” Lindsay said.
The changes he wanted, Lindsay said, were based on a presumption that the department needed to do a better job of building community relationships, which he hoped would engender more cooperation in investigations, increased convictions and reduced crime.
“Did you know that community policing had already been in effect?” asked plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Jaffe.
“I really felt [community policing] had not been done previously,” Lindsay said, “that while the department would describe itself as such, the strategies, deployment and tactics didn’t really add up to that philosophy.”
After a lengthy process and wide-ranging community input, Lindsay said he picked Magnus to be chief because he felt Magnus was well-versed in the issues and committed to the community policing model.
Lindsay also praised Magnus’ implementation of technological innovations, including sophisticated crime data gathering software, and audio gunshot detection and video surveillance systems that have been installed throughout the city.
Lindsay acknowledged several times during testimony Thursday and late Wednesday that Magnus has made some comments that were “inappropriate,” in particular a crack about the African American holiday Juneteenth. Magnus asked a group of police managers if Juneteenth was a “holiday for shooting people,” according to prior testimony.
But on the whole, Lindsay said, he is pleased with the job Magnus has done.
“The bottom line is crime is going down. Richmond is a safer community as a result of all of these techniques. As a result of Magnus’ management crime is down and the community is safer,” Lindsay said.
In two revelations that came late in the afternoon, Lindsay testified under cross examination that three of the plaintiffs urged him to fire Magnus during a private meeting in 2007, and that he approved the use of more than $1,200 in city funds to install a security system on Magnus’ home in Richmond.
In August 2007, Lindsay said, he agreed to meet with three plaintiffs, Lts. Shawn Pickett, Arnold Threets and Michael Booker.
“They complained about” Magnus, Lindsay said. “They disagreed with him on many issues associated with his management … in essence, it was about police operations.”
“What did they ask you to do?” Jaffe said.
“They asked me to fire the police chief,” Lindsay said.
Another source of disagreement came from an unusual request. In 2009, Magnus visited Lindsay’s office to warn that he was subject to “credible threats for his own personal safety,” Lindsay said. Details of the threat were not discussed in testimony.
Lindsay said that after consulting with the city attorney, he agreed to approve $1,208.89 to install an alarm system in Magnus’ home. Magnus lives in Richmond.
Monthly support costs for the system are paid by the city as well, Lindsay said. “I felt it was an appropriate expenditure of public funds,” Lindsay said.
In December of last year, Lt. Threets sent Lindsay an email alleging that the system may constitute of a misuse of public funds.
Lindsay disagreed. “At best it was inaccurate,” Lindsay said of Threets’ letter.
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