There are just some things you can’t make up, and apparently, a white Hastings, Mich., police officer is claiming that he has been subjected to racial taunts and other hurtful comments from within his own department after he took a genetic test on Ancestry.com that revealed he is 18 percent black.
Sgt. Cleon Brown claims that Police Chief Jeff Pratt called him “Kunte” after the character in Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family, while other officers whispered “Black Lives Matter” and pumped their fists in the air as they walked by, according to MLive.com.
The mayor, who retired in January, also told racial jokes, Brown claims.
Former “Mayor [Frank] Campbell saw [Brown], smiled and said, ‘Hey, I got a joke for you guys,’ and proceeded to tell a racist joke using the word ‘Negroid’ at least two or three times,” the lawsuit claims.
Then there was allegedly an incident at Christmas when the department hung stockings with names of the officers on a Christmas tree, and a black Santa Claus figurine with “18%” written on its white beard was put in Brown’s stocking.
Brown has filed a federal lawsuit accusing defendants of state and federal civil rights violations and violation of the state’s Whistleblower’s Protection Act. He also claims intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Named in the lawsuit are the city of Hastings, Police Chief Jeff Pratt, City Manager Jeff Mansfield, Deputy Chief Dale Boulter and Sgt. Kris Miller.
However, the city says Brown is the one who started the whole thing. Mansfield released a statement by the city insisting that the police chief ordered that the racial comments stop and that Brown had started the “joking and banter.”
“Sgt. Brown, in a very joking and jovial manner, informed several of his fellow officers that he had recently taken a DNA test through Ancestry.com and the results showed that he was 18 percent African American,” the statement read. The city also noted that Ancestry.com’s website did not include “African American” as a possible result.
“Ancestry.com’s website also states that the test results do not definitively reveal where a person’s ancestors actually originated; only that there are shared characteristics in genes, which might or might not indicate a person’s ancestors are actually from that geographic area,” the city added, according to the news site.
The city claims that the topic would die down, and then Brown would once again bring it up, resulting in “mutual bantering” about officers’ heritage. Brown, the city said, engaged in “typical racial stereotypes.”
“After a month or so of Brown originally bringing it up, even that ended,” the city said.
As for the apparent Christmas fiasco, the city said that the black Santa was indeed put in Brown’s stocking, but it was removed and an officer brought up concerns with the chief. However, according to the city, Brown told the chief that he was not upset and the city said that Pratt told Brown to be proud of his heritage.
Pratt then informed officers that there would be no more joking about the results, the city claims.
“The officer who placed the Santa in Brown’s stocking then went to Brown to apologize ... since he heard that Brown was upset. ... Sgt. Brown emphatically denied that he ever complained about it or that he was upset or offended by it and he even seemed confused that the issue was being raised,” the city said, adding that Pratt was concerned that Brown was the one initiating the racial comments.
The city contends it is also uncertain as to whether Brown is truly considered a part of a protected class under civil rights law, even if the Ancestry.com test is valid, emphasizing that racial discrimination laws are “not designed to protect those who can demonstrate some trace amount of a particular race or geographic origin ... ”
Brown’s attorney, Karie Boylan, said that when the defendants became aware of the complaint, which was filed Jan. 4 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the chief and deputy chief “conducted highly coercive, offensive, intimidating employee interviews asking only leading questions.”
Boylan said that the defendants also “unfriended” Brown on Facebook and would not allow him to play at the annual charity basketball games. The city manager also ignored him, and the police chief either ignored him or was “curt,” she said. Pratt also allegedly asked Brown to return to patrol officer, the lawsuit claims.
“Based on the openly hostile, retaliatory behaviors displayed by the defendants (the city manager, police chief, the deputy chief, one of four sergeants, and one of seven officers), and tacit approval of defendant’s conduct by many other Hastings officers, it is more likely than not, plaintiff will not have adequate back up in the event of an emergency,” Boylan wrote.
Boylan added that the stress has affected her client’s health and that he may not be able to continue working.
Read more at MLive.com.