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Retired cops, deputy chief, testify to divisions within Richmond police

on March 22, 2012

Two retired white officers and the current second in command testified Wednesday that racial divisions have persisted in the Richmond Police Department for decades, but that Chief Chris Magnus didn’t favor any racial groups over any other.

But the testimony of the three defense witnesses did further expose an environment of embittered, highly paid police leaders who cliqued up and engaged in rough talk and petty gossip throughout the early days of the Magnus era, which began in 2006.

Ken Greco and Michael Gormley, both retired lieutenants, and current Deputy Chief Edwin Medina testified in the third full day of the defense’s case.

Seven high-ranking African American police officials are suing Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city, alleging they were subjected to racial-discrimination and unfairly denied promotions.

The trial began Jan. 17.

Greco testified that plaintiff Lt. Johan Simon was his friend, but that on Aug. 14, 2007, he grew concerned when he heard Simon and another officer complimenting a plain-clothes female officer’s figure.

Greco reported the incident. The subsequent investigation found no wrongdoing, but Simon was put on administrative leave for one day because Magnus and Ritter felt he could be a threat to Greco.

“I did the right thing,” Greco said of reporting the incident.

Greco testified that he was later disciplined by Magnus after his work computer was compromised while he was on leave after back surgery.

Among the files was a document Greco had written for his personal notes – and contained information about Magnus and other police officers, likening one male detective to a “gossipy old lady.”

“I don’t know how it happened, maybe it was a screw-up by the IT guys,” Greco said. “The wizards got it, and half the department wound up with my files.”

Gormley, who retired last Friday, testified that during the latter half of his 24 years with the department it was common for police leaders to align themselves with other command staff members, usually of the same race. Gormley said some of the plaintiffs enjoyed close personal relationships with previous African American police chiefs.

He added that in the years before Magnus, he rarely received feedback on his performance or formal evaluations.

“No news was good news,” Gormley wrote on a questionnaire he filled out in 2005.

In the same questionnaire, Gormley suggested internal divisions in the department were unhealthy.

“There are various factions, both within the community and our department, who are vying for influence and recognition,” Gormley wrote.

At a management retreat for police officials in Napa in September 2006, the growing tensions between the chief and the plaintiffs erupted into a heated argument, Gormley testified. Described in previous testimony as a generally quiet man in meetings, Gormley said he blurted out “bullshit” at one point as the plaintiffs accused Magnus and Ritter of discrimination.

The plaintiffs have testified that Magnus at one point in the meeting told the group they could either “get on board” with his program or find a new line of work or retire.

Gormley testified that Magnus was actually talking to him.

“We were in eye contact the whole time that was said,” Gormley testified.

Gormley also testified that he had never heard Ritter make a racially insensitive comment during more than 20 years of working with her. The plaintiffs have alleged that Ritter made several racially tinged comments and had a reputation of being a racist.

Along with Greco and Medina, Gormley testified that he had no knowledge of sign language being used by white officers to signal the presence of black officers, nor any knowledge of allegations that white officers called black officers “French Canadians” as a code for the N-word. In testimony last week, a white officer, Steve Harris, said he witnessed white officers using sign language that indicates the presence of African Americans.

Medina, a former Marine and 1997 detective of the year, was promoted by Magnus to deputy chief despite not having a 4-year degree, which was “preferred” for the position, according to a department document.

Medina, who is Latino, testified that Lt. Cleveland Brown, then a captain, argued hard against Magnus’ promotion of Ritter to deputy chief. Echoing previous testimony by others, Medina described Brown as dropping to the floor during a high-level meeting and saying “no massa, no massa” in demonstrating that Ritter should not have power over African American captains.

Medina said Brown was “getting his point across his way.”

“He’s a funny guy,” Medina said of Brown.

Under cross examination from plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen Jaffe, Medina said he married Magnus’ former secretary. The plaintiffs have sought to portray Medina and Ritter as beneficiaries of Magnus’ discrimination against them.

Medina said he bought in to Magnus’ department-wide community policing strategy, which he said was an improvement over Magnus’ predecessors’ strategy of having a small team dedicated to community policing, which entailed neighborhood familiarity and non-enforcement, community relationship building activities.

Medina also testified that he, Simon and another plaintiff, Capt. Eugene McBride, were in charge of developing an application for a federal grant. After they missed the deadline to apply, an internal affairs investigation was launched to find out why it happened.

The investigation found that Simon’s initial draft went to Medina two days before the due date, and that Medina made some edits and forwarded it to Magnus before the deadline.

“Magnus had it when the clock ran out?” Jaffe said.

“Yes,” Medina said.

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