KARK/Fox 16’s Mitch McCoy broke an interesting story yesterday about a federal Justice Department investigation of potential racial bias against a white Little Rock police officer in filling a hit-and-run investigator job in 2016.
In 2016, a complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of then Officer Ralph Breshears, who said he was passed over for the job in favor of a less experienced black officer by Capt. Tanya Washington, who is black. According to federal documents:
“Captain Washington, more likely than not in 2016 made a derogatory racial comment in relation to hiring when she commented to the effect of “I’m tired of these lily white squads.””
Washington said her choice was based on presentation, verbal skills and minimal sick leave. An internal Police Department investigation of Washington on the complaint about her racial remark produced no disciplinary action that rose to the level (suspension or demotion) at which disclosure of the results of the investigation would be required.
The new wrinkle, and McCoy has been unable to discover the explanation for it, is the Justice Department’s entry in the case in 2017. There was a change of presidential administration in 2017 and among the actions taken since Jeff Sessions became Donald Trump’s attorney general was his announcement that investigations of police misconduct were bad for morale. He ended an oversight program aimed at curbing abusive police practices toward minorities and asked to delay enforcement of consent decrees with police forces on civil rights issues. He vowed to more strongly support law enforcement.
Whether this case is a reflection of that regime change or not, it is likely to have a mixed reaction among the Little Rock police force, It is majority white, with a black chief, but the Black Police Officers Association is unhappy, among others, about discipline this week of a black officer for complaining about use of a racial slur by a white police recruit. Community activists have also complained about poor relationships with white officers, most of whom live outside the city of Little Rock. A recent “community policing” strategy has included frequent traffic stops in inner city neighborhoods. The Fraternal Order of Police has said crime and Little Rock schools (which are majority black) are key reasons officers live elsewhere. The city provides dozens of them with police cars for free commuting to suburbs.
Breshears won’t make a perfect witness for the Justice Department. Breshears was charged this week with a misdemeanor battery charge for shooting a car theft suspect. The prosecuting attorney found he’d been negligent for firing when he wasn’t in danger and putting others at risk. Breshears also gave accounts of the incident “inconsistent” with what a surveillance camera demonstrated, the prosecutor said.
This wasn’t the first episode in which Breashears’ credibility has been challenged. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this week that Breshears, who joined the force in 1991, was fired in 2003. The department decided he’d unlawfully arrested a woman, gave false information in a report and was insubordinate in initially refusing to ask that charges against her be dropped. The Civil Service Commission upheld his firing, but he was reinstated after giving notice that he intended to appeal that finding in court, the newspaper reported.