Saying the Little Rock Police Department is riddled with racism and racial discrimination, attorney Mike Laux announced this morning that he has filed suit against the city on behalf of three black LRPD officers and one former LRPD officer who say they were discriminated against through a lack of promotions, lower salaries and uneven discipline when compared to their white counterparts on the force. Laux said two other black officers will join the plaintiffs once those officers receive approval to sue from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Brian S. Miller.
The complaint was filed in federal court this morning on behalf of LRPD officers Sgt. Willie Davis, Lt. Earnest Whitten, Sgt. Derrick Threadgill, and former LRPD officer Jackie Parker. Laux said Lt. Johnny Gilbert Jr. and Capt. Tonya Washington will join the complaint as soon as they receive letters saying they have the right to sue from EEOC. Davis, Whitten, Threadgill and Gilbert were on hand for today’s press conference announcing the suit, which was held at the Little Rock Black Police Officers Association headquarters on Arch Street.
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Laux said that in addition to racial discrimination in hiring and promotions, there is also “a component of age” when it comes to advancement of black officers at LRPD, with black officers told to “be patient” and wait their turn for promotions. After years on the force, Laux said, some of those officers are told “guess what? You’re too old.”
While Laux does not represent the BPOA, he said several times during today’s event that LRPD Chief Kenton Buckner has shown animus toward the group. Officers with the BPOA have been punished and retaliated against, Laux said, including Gilbert, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in Laux’s successful, 2017 civil suit against former LRPD officer Josh Hastings in the 2012 shooting death of 15-year-old Bobby Moore, who Hastings shot as Moore and two friends attempted to flee in a stolen car from a West Little Rock apartment complex. Moore’s family was awarded $415,000 in the case. Davis, Laux noted, was suspended for ten days in late January after he complained to higher ups about a social media post in which a white LRPD recruit had posted a picture of a black man with a caption that included a racial slur.
“Rather than commend Sgt. Davis,” Laux said, “he was retaliated against and punished.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages to make up for lost wages, Laux said, but also seeks to enjoin the city from continuing what Laux and the plaintiffs call racist and “uneven” practices in hiring, discipline and promotions. Laux said the LRPD has a clear hierarchy, with older white male officers at the top and black female officers at the bottom. Though both city manager Bruce Moore and LRPD Chief Kenton Buckner are black, Laux said that doesn’t prevent them from presiding over a racist system. Later, after calling Buckner standoffish and condescending, Laux said that maybe city leaders see Buckner as an African-American who has a willingness to be tough on other African-Americans, “and [is] thus useful to white leaders.”
Laux said that in the course of the lawsuit, he hopes to depose both Buckner and Moore and ask them to justify the personnel decisions they’ve made over the years when it comes to black and white officers. In order to change the department, Laux said, he believes the city will have to “clean house.”
“The place is a mess,” Laux said, “and we’re hoping with this lawsuit to sort out some of the mess.”