After four years fighting to keep her job in a police department awash in controversy over race and violence, a Black lieutenant on the force in Columbus, Ohio, has been given a whole two American dollars by a jury.
Melissa McFadden sued the city of Columbus back in 2018, following an internal investigation and demotion that she maintains was in retaliation for her willingness to help other nonwhite Columbus cops when they complained about unfair treatment. In her original complaint, McFadden asked for more than $25,000 in damages, the Columbus Dispatch reported at the time.
From the Columbus Dispatch
McFadden has worked for the division for 22 years and “received scores of ‘above expectations’ on her performance reviews,” according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys representing McFadden argue she was investigated only after she helped another minority officer file an equal employment opportunity complaint in fall 2016. Commander Jennifer Knight in internal affairs reportedly called the complaint “stupid” and said she was going to “take (McFadden) out” for assisting the officer, according to the lawsuit.
In January 2017, a new commander, Rhonda Grizzell, was assigned to McFadden’s zone and began showing up at the beginning of officers’ shifts to solicit complaints about McFadden, according to the lawsuit.
Things were so bad in the department that two years ago, McFadden wrote a memoir, “Walking the Thin Black Line: Confronting Racism In the Columbus Division of Police,” detailing her battle against racism within the force and while on the street.
“As a Black police officer, I love my community and have dedicated my life to keeping them safe,” she wrote. “But my calls for justice, even combined with all the other officers of color in Columbus, are drowned out by the chain of command, the union, and the politicians who are invested in keeping things just the way they are.”
In December, the city of Columbus agreed to pay $5.75 million to 32 people injured by police who attacked them during protests over police brutality in 2020. Last month, Columbus City Council passed limits on the use of force cops could use when policing peaceful protests (although why cops even need to be legislated to beat up people exercising a Constitutional right is baffling).
In April, the murder trial of former Columbus cop Andrew Mitchell, who is Black, ended in a mistrial. Mitchell shot and killed 23-year-old Donna Castleberry, who was white, while she was in the back of his police vehicle in 2018. Mitchell was a vice police officer who had been investigated by the department for allegedly forcing women he encountered into sexual encounters. He also faces federal charges over similar allegations, but the jury in the murder trial wasn’t allowed to hear about it.
Essentially, the department in which McFadden worked is an absolute fucking mess.
Her lawsuit finally made its way before a federal jury last week, which then handed down the nominal monetary award. McFadden’s attorney, John Marshall, told the Dispatch that the lawsuit was more about principle than cash and that he’ll be asking a judge to force city government to pay for her legal costs.
Besides the half-cup of Starbucks that her monetary award will pay for, McFadden also wants a judge to purge her personnel file of any disciplinary action against her and to force the department to “issue “a communication to all CDP officers that the discrimination and retaliation are regretted and CDP looks forward to many more years of Lt. McFadden’s contribution to its mission,” according to the Dispatch.
That’d be great, but throwing a few more dollars her way wouldn’t hurt.