Cops file discrimination suit against Everett Police Department

SEATTLE – Three Everett police officers filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against the city of Everett, alleging discrimination by the police department.

“The Everett Police Department routinely promoted Caucasian officers over more experienced and qualified officers of color in the Department,” said attorney Victoria Vreeland of Vreeland Law. “These veteran police officers collectively have more than 60 years of police experience but were repeatedly denied promotions despite their top rankings and qualifications due to their race.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Sgts. Manuel Garcia and Richard Wolfington and officer Sherman Mah.

The officers filed formal complaints with appropriate department supervisors and city officials about what they called their unfair and hostile workplace, but city officials did nothing, the lawsuit states.

“Everett’s police department is in charge of upholding the law, not breaking it,” Vreeland said. “City leaders were informed about these repeated civil rights violations and retaliation, but did nothing to correct it.”

In response, the city of Everett issued the following statement:  "The City investigated the plaintiffs’ allegations and determined they were without merit. The City intends to vigorously defend against the claims. It is important to underscore that the Everett Police Department’s core values include integrity, professionalism and honor, and the Department is dedicated to providing a supportive, nondiscriminatory work environment. The Department uses fair processes for employee evaluations and for advancement to ensure that our most capable and effective officer leaders are promoted."

Garcia, who is the city's first Hispanic officer, has been with the police department since 1988 and a sergeant since 2002, the Vreeland Law office said. Vreeland said he applied for a promotion to lieutenant and ranked first on the eligibility register, but an officer who tested lower was promoted instead. On March 23, 2011, Garcia was finally promoted to lieutenant, but when he raised issues of difference in treatment by his commanding officer, he was unfairly demoted, according to the complaint.

Wolfington, a Native American, has been with the department since 1993. After serving for 20 years, he was forced to retire early last year due to what the complaint said was a hostile work environment and retaliation. Wolfington was denied a lieutenant promotion after reporting unethical behavior by his commanding officer, the complaint alleged.

Mah, who is Asian, has been an officer with the department since 1995. Mah has been repeatedly skipped over for promotions by officers who ranked lower or failed required testing, the complaint said. Mah complained to supervisors and city officials, but his complaints were also never investigated, the suit said.