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RPD discrimination lawsuit prepares for Federal Court

on September 7, 2012

Five months after a jury cleared Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus of racial discrimination allegations, the case is now set to reappear in federal court in November.

The plaintiffs — seven prominent African-American police officers — originally filed a suit in 2007 that alleged that Magnus discriminated by race when choosing officers for promotion. In April a jury cleared the chief, deputy chief and city of any wrongdoing.

But immediately after the verdict, plaintiff’s attorney Stephan Jaffe said that his clients would bring their case to federal court. The federal case will focus on claims after 2007, while the state case focused on claims pre-2007.

Only three of the original seven plaintiffs – Lieutenants Shawn Picket, Arnold Threets and Cleveland Brown — will pursue the case in federal court, though. Brown decided to continue with the lawsuit even though he has already retired. The other four plaintiffs – Captain Eugene McBride, Sergeant James Jenkins and Lieutenants Michael Booker and Johan Simon — have either retired or settled out of court.

Richmond City Attorney Geoffrey Spellberg said the first jury came back with the verdict quickly, and he didn’t expect a different result the second time around.

“I don’t think the plaintiffs have improved their positions,” Spellberg said.

Magnus has continued to work through the trials. But, he said the case’s route to federal court is still on his mind.

“This has been the most frustrating thing to happen in my life,” Magnus said.

The suit was filed in 2007, after the chief had been on the job for one year.

“It’s been hard on me and hard on my family,” Magnus said.

Assistant City Manager Leslie Knight told Richmond Confidential in April that the city had spent about $4.5 million defending itself in the case. Of that, about $2 million was covered by insurance, and the remaining amount was taken from Richmond’s Human Resource Risk Management division.

Spellberg said he thought the total would increase by another $200,000 by the conclusion of the federal court case.


  1. Ellen Seskin on September 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Chief Magnus said this has been hard on him and his family, and I’m sure it has been terrible. But I wish the plaintiffs would stop for a minute and consider how devastating and divisive this has been for our city. The jury in the first trial took just a few short hours to come back with a verdict with not guilty on every count, against every defendant. This is obviously not about the merits of the case anymore, but about saving face. Please, if you care about the residents of Richmond, drop this suit and let our city heal.

  2. Don Gosney on September 8, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Thank goodness Richmond has plenty of money to spend in stimulating our economy by keeping high priced lawyers on the payroll.

    Normally I’d rather see our precious tax dollars used to maintain our libraries and rec centers, to expand our parks or to fill in a few pot holes but those can all wait while we spend that money to defend ourselves against lawsuits by people who felt cheated because they weren’t promoted or given choice assignments based on the color of their skin or their gender.

    Not to worry, though, we can hold off on those essential services for another decade or two while we pay for these out of town attorneys instead of making improvements to our city and quality of life issues.

    All hyperbole aside, even though the losers in the original case were required to pay court costs, we won’t even see that money. Deals have been struck forgiving many of those debts in exchange for dropping the federal case and going away.

  3. Kennedy Grad on September 10, 2012 at 5:27 am

    This seems to be a case of gross abuse of the legal system by the plaintiffs lawyers. Like Richmond has money to burn by spending $millions defending against frivolous and ridiculous lawsuits. Some kind of reform of the legal system is needed if this kind of abuse is possible, like making the plaintiffs and their lawyers responsible for the costs incurred, by Richmond having to defend itself.

  4. Jim Miller on September 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    I think this lawsuit is absolutely preposterous. Our Chief is the best any city could wish for. He is very thorough and considerate in all areas of his profession. I feel so bad for him and his family and we all have suffered with him. I know he will win and endure this frivolous lawsuit, and return to his normal way of going about his business. Providing our city with the best of care it possibly could have. This federal case has no merrit in my opinion, and the residents of Richmond all share the same ideology.

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