By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Glover and the other TPOA leaders eventually worked their way into the chief's office several times. They showed Click studies they had produced assessing two years' worth of disciplinary records. But Click, Glover says, "just treated it as if we were giving him a bunch of rhetoric."
The TPOA leaders didn't fare much better when they took their studies to city council members, assistant city managers, and Mayor Ron Kirk.
Twice, in July and September 1998, the black officers met with Kirk. The mayor briefly considered hiring a private consultant to review the disparate discipline problem, but in September 1998 he balked at the high cost of such a study. "He didn't want to pay for it," says Lee Bush, TPOA vice president.
But the mayor didn't want the black officers inviting the U.S. Justice Department to look at the problem either.
"'We don't need to be discussing this if you're going to Washington,'" Glover recalls Kirk telling them. (The mayor refused to comment for this story. His assistant said the mayor was angry over a column by Observer staff writer Jim Schutze concerning city council member Al Lipscomb's bribery conviction. See Mayor Kirk's letter on page 3.)
In December 1998, the TPOA leaders did what Kirk didn't want them to do: They lugged voluminous files full of disciplinary records to the Justice Department Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. For the TPOA leaders, the trip represented the culmination of months of work. They had spent hours compiling data, keypunching in much of it because the department had been unhelpful about turning over computerized files. "It was a game of cat and mouse with the records," says Donya Witherspoon, who helped TPOA compile the records.
Glover says they networked with officers to try to uncover cases in which whites had received only informal reprimands in instances in which blacks had notations placed on their employment records. "Those are hard to find because sometimes only two people know," Glover says.
For some among the group of outspoken African-American police officers, the cause was personal.
Lee Bush, for instance, had his own job at stake. A detective serving in the personnel division, Bush had written a letter in July 1997 objecting to his division's practice of sending white officers to out-of-town recruiting trips (where they earned heaps of overtime pay) more frequently than their black counterparts. His bosses responded, Bush later alleged in a lawsuit, by transferring him to a patrol unit, suspending him for two days, and effectively denying him a promotion.
In the 42 trips taken to schools in a four-year period, the personnel department supervisors had invited blacks 13 times, and 11 of those forays were to predominantly black universities. More than 40 percent of the officers eligible for the trips were black.
"I thought, 'Someone needs to do something about it; it might as well be me,'" recalls Bush, 41, a graduate of Grambling State University.
What Bush did was guaranteed to provoke a response. He wrote a letter to Click that referred to then Deputy Chief Raymond Hawkins, who was in charge of personnel, and Bush's other superiors as a "klan."
"I thought it was a creative way of getting their attention," Bush explains with a broad smile.
Hawkins, who has since left the department and did not respond to requests placed with his lawyer for an interview, took it personally. Hawkins, who is white, already had acquired a reputation of being hostile to black officers. In July 1995, Morning News staff writer Nora Lopez reported that Hawkins told her about police job applicants: "If we picked the best candidates right now, they would all look like me." In a deposition, Hawkins later denied making the remark, but Lopez testified that he did.
Bush insists that his use of "klan" was not a racial epithet. Moreover, Bush says, his bosses knew he didn't mean the term literally. Several of the people he was referring to -- such as Manuel Vasquez -- were Hispanic.
When the letter angered his bosses, Bush initially expected help from Chief Click. "I was one of these type of guys, I thought I had pretty good rapport with the chief," he recalls. "I caught him in the basement one time when they had stopped me from traveling. He said, 'I understand, Lee. I'm going to look into it.'"
But in July 1998, Click suspended Bush for two days, alleging that he had "demeaned or ridiculed officers" with his "klan" letter. When Bush returned to work, he was transferred from the personnel division to the patrol unit. Because of the suspension, he was effectively denied a promotion to sergeant.
In February 1998, Bush, who currently is on medical leave, filed a federal lawsuit against the city and named Click, Hawkins, Vasquez, and his other white supervisors individually as defendants. Bush had previously filed several claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC concluded that the department had violated Bush's civil rights by retaliating against him for making a discrimination complaint. When the city refused to resolve the claim, the EEOC sent Bush's complaint to the Justice Department.
Last April, Barbara Meacham, a lawyer in the civil rights division who had already begun working with TPOA leaders on a department-wide pattern-and-practice case, informed city lawyers that the Justice Department would investigate Bush's case.