Six current or former members of the Little Rock Police Department are suing the city in federal court.
The group of veteran African American officers claim the department is racist, discriminates against older black officers and retaliates against the ones who speak up.
“We want them to justify their personnel decisions,” said attorney Mike Laux, whose law firm has won high-dollar judgments involving police cases in other cities. “I've looked at them. It doesn't make sense to me. Let's not beat around the bush. There is rampant racism and racial discrimination that riddles the Little Rock Police Department.”
Lt. Earnest Whitten, Sgt. Derrick Threadgill, Sgt. Willie Davis, Lt. Johnny D. Gilbert Jr. and Capt. Tanya Washington all claim they are victims of that racism. Former officer Jackie Parker claims he was fired inappropriately by the department.
They are members of the Little Rock Black Police Officers Association.
“We're looking at six officers who are stepping forward in the great tradition of the LRBPOA,” Laux said.
Gilbert is the son of one of the officers who brought a landmark discrimination case to trial in 1982. The rulings from it laid the foundation for cases like this one that have followed. Gilbert also testified for the family of Bobby Moore, a teen killed by officer Josh Hastings in a highly charged case that saw murder trials twice end in hung juries but a wrongful death suit result in a judgment for the family.
“In my opinion, the Little Rock Police Department has not lived up to what it is capable of being,” Gilbert Jr. said. “We want to find out what it is capable of doing to be better.”
The suit is claiming the discrimination continues despite African American leadership at the top in the form of city manager Bruce Moore and Chief Kenton Buckner. Laux said it does not absolve the chief of responsibility.
“I don't know if he has made his career out of being the African American who is tough on African Americans and thereby useful to white leadership,” he said. “He relieves white folks of a lot of their guilt.”
Buckner, Moore and Little Rock city attorney Tom Carpenter all declined to comment as the litigation begins.
The plaintiffs want promotions or their jobs back, plus back pay and damages.
They would also like a judge or jury to order the department to make major changes to the promotion and advancement system.