A racial discrimination case against a former Fort Worth police chief and the city is back in court after a series of appeals were denied by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Retired Sgt. Delbert Johnson filed the civil rights lawsuit against then chief Jeffrey Halstead and the city of Fort Worth in 2014.
Johnson claims that Halstead and the city created a hostile work environment for him based on race, that leaders retaliated against Johnson based on race and that his First Amendment rights were violated after he reported a racist photo that had been left on an office printer.
Halstead’s attorney moved to dismiss the case, but a judge denied the motions. The judge’s decision was appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a judge there decided with the court on two of the motions, but granted the dismissal of the First Amendment claim.
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Now, Johnson’s attorney, David Watsky, said they’re moving forward with the remaining parts of the lawsuit.
Johnson, a 24-year veteran of the department, was one of three black officers who filed grievances with the city’s Human Resources Department in 2013, prompting the city to hire Coleman and Associates Consultants to investigate.
The report, which was released in August 2014, found no hard evidence of racial discrimination, but did find instances of hostile and harassing behavior that was not stopped by department leaders.
After the report was published, Halstead posted a now-deleted video on YouTube in which he admitted to the claims of harassment, which Johnson says happened over a three-year period.
The Coleman report cited several other examples of statements made by Halstead where he accepted responsibility for the discriminatory behavior, according to the report.
In 2010 Johnson was alerted by officer James Dunn about an offensive picture that had been left on an office printer. The picture, taken by Sgt. Mike Cagle, showed Sgt. Ann Gates holding a noose around a snowman’s neck, according to the lawsuit.
“As African-Americans, both Officer Dunn and Sgt. Johnson were offended by the connotations that picture brought up,” the suit states.
After someone other than Johnson complained to Internal Affairs, Gates and Cagle were investigated and admonished. Upset about the discipline, the suit states, Sgt. David Stamp told other supervisors that they should watch out for Johnson and that he could not be trusted.
The lawsuit says that Stamp tried to sabotage one of Johnson’s assignments by trying to convince other officers to not work on a federal grant that Johnson managed. Stamp is also accused of sending Halstead an anonymous letter that accused Johnson of stealing money from that same grant program, which prompted three investigative teams to audit the grant. No wrongdoing by Johnson was found.
Johnson filed several complaints and then met with Halstead about the discrimination. Halstead allegedly told Johnson that he had “failed him” and that he would “make it right.”
Three months later, the lawsuit says, Halstead transferred Johnson from the day shift in the traffic division to a second shift, which Johnson said is “one of the worst shifts in the entire police department.”
Because of the shift change, Johnson had to quit a second job that he held for 11 years, which cost him $50,000 in lost income. He believes this was in retaliation to his complaints.
On Thursday, Watsky said he disagreed with the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision to drop the First Amendment claim.
“When you’re talking about racial discrimination in a police department, I believe that is a public issue,” he said.
Watksy said attorneys will wait for a scheduling order that will allow the case to move into a discovery phase.