For some reason, white people haven’t made the correlation that racism often comes at a hefty price these days. Columbus, Ohio, learned this lesson the hard way after the city voted to settle a former officer’s discrimination suit against the Columbus Division of Police for nearly half a million dollars.
CNN reports that the Columbus City Council voted on Monday to pay Karl Shaw, a Black officer who is a 28-year veteran of the force, $475,000 due to discrimination and retaliation from a superior. The settlement, which doesn’t admit any wrongdoing on the part of the police, includes a provision that will make discriminatory retaliation a fireable offense. According to Shaw’s attorney, Fred Gittes, Shaw wouldn’t have taken the payout if the provision wasn’t included. There are currently three other discrimination lawsuits filed against the department, including one from Shaw’s former partner.
Mayor Andrew Gitner said through a spokeswoman that racism in the CDP was “systemic.” “Officer Shaw went through the proper internal channels when the incident occurred, but was still the victim of retaliation. An extensive Internal Affairs Bureau investigation gave the offending officer a written reprimand,” the mayor said in a statement. “This case represents the status quo and the past. It cannot represent our future and underscores the need for civilian oversight and independent investigations.”
“Black police officers who take an oath to protect the life and liberty of their communities far too often are muted, voiceless, subjugated and marginalized if they courageously speak their truth,” Columbus City Councilwoman Shayla Favor told CNN. “This is a tragedy for our city. It is our duty to create a safe space for every resident who seeks justice and reform.”
Shaw joined the force in 1992 and experienced discrimination right off the bat. He competed in his college swim team, was a diver in the Navy, but the department said he was unqualified to join the division’s dive team. His lawsuit stemmed from an incident that occurred in 2014 when he sought a position in the narcotics division after his unit was disbanded.
The sergeant in charge of the narcotics division had a history of racism, with Shaw being aware that he had a “negative attitude about ‘black officers and African-Americans in general,’” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also goes on to say that the sergeant made “violent racist threats” to Shaw’s former partner, Eric Cornett, as well as Shaw’s supervisor.
According to the lawsuit, another officer alleged that the sergeant “used the N-word and the terms ‘ape’ and ‘monkey’ in reference to [Cornett and Shaw] and said that if something was not done ‘about those two monkeys, he was going to take them out back and kill them.’”
The threats were so bad that Cornett took a $70,000 pay cut, sold his home for substantially under market value, and moved to South Carolina so he could obtain safer employment. “We’re still terrified every single day,” Cornett told CNN “Every single day, my wife knows she best carry that weapon when she leaves the house.”
Interviewed in December 2014, Shaw told internal affairs he was aware of the hiring sergeant’s reputation and had heard about his “racial jokes,” epithets and threats, according to the lawsuit.
When Shaw was passed over for the narcotics post — for a White officer with less seniority — then-Chief Kim Jacobs removed the White officer from the post and put a lieutenant in charge of filling it anew, the lawsuit says. Shaw was offered the narcotics job in February 2015, but before he could accept it, he learned the sergeant had found out about his internal affairs interview.
He further heard that, referring to Shaw and another Black officer as “the brothers,” the sergeant warned a colleague that Shaw and the other officer “better not take my job,” referring to the narcotics post, according to the lawsuit.
Fearing retribution, Shaw turned down the job. Running out of time for reassignment, he applied for a second narcotics position, but it was filled by a White officer with more seniority, the lawsuit says. Shaw learned later of more allegations against the sergeant, including that a Latino officer had accused him of menacingly gesturing toward his gun during a confrontation.
As if the racism wasn’t enough, the sergeant was also under investigation for overtime abuses and mishandling department property. While the sergeant was eventually fired, he was reinstated after arbitration, because, apparently, cops are incapable of committing fireable offenses.
Oh, and for the racism, the sergeant only received a written reprimand.
Shaw’s story is incredibly disheartening but sadly, not uncommon. Systemic racism has long been built into the fabric of the CDP, with Gittes telling CNN that he’s been representing cops against the department since 1978, when he filed a class-action discrimination suit on behalf of former officers. Lt. Melissa McFadden, the highest-ranking Black woman in the CDP, has also filed a lawsuit against the department, and wrote a book about the discrimination she faced during her time in the police force.
The settlement comes on the heels of a study that found Black police officers were disciplined more often than white ones. I don’t mean to be flippant, but if there was one workplace I just assumed was racist, it’s the police department. Shaw hopes the lawsuit, particularly the provision making discrimination a fireable offense, will improve things for young Black people who may consider joining the force.
“He did this for younger officers, and he would like to see more Black officers,” Gittes told CNN. “Karl really believes in police work, and he believes people of color should be involved in law enforcement,” he added. “The department and command structure makes that extraordinarily difficult because they don’t take racism seriously.”