CINCINNATI, Ohio (FOX19) – Opening statements are set to begin Wednesday in the federal trial of two veteran Cincinnati police officers who filed a reverse racial discrimination complaint against the city and the police chief for their discipline for issuing a racial slur.
Proceedings will begin at 9 a.m. with U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott presiding.
The officers, Donte Hill, who is black, and Dennis Barnette, who is white, both used the ‘n-word’ to refer to black citizens when responding months apart in 2018, according to city records. .
Their lawsuit claims the city violated their constitutional rights by treating them differently for using the same racial slur.
“They are using this case to send a message about racial double standards,” said one of the officers’ lawyers, Chris Wiest.
The suit names the city of Cincinnati and recently retired police chief Eliot Isaac, who is now the chief of police and director of public safety at the University of Cincinnati.
In addition to Wiest, the officers are also represented by attorneys Zach Gottesman and Rob Thumann.
Assistant City Attorney Katherine Baron defends the City and Isaac, who is being sued in both his official and individual capacity.
The city lost a request to dismiss the litigation on the basis of qualified immunity, according to court records.
Duhaney was also named as a defendant, but was dismissed by the judge. Duhaney left city hall in the fall of 2020 and is now the city manager of Virginia Beach.
The lawsuit seeks judgments against the city and Isaac for general, compensatory, special, and punitive damages in excess of $25,000 at trial, immediate and permanent equitable relief, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and other relief deemed just by the court. court.
Body camera footage captured the two officers saying the racial slur and will be released during the trial.
The 10-person, all-white jury with no alternates was seated on Monday (see jury demographics below).
Isaac, both officers, and retired Sgt. Dan Hils, president of the police union, is among the witnesses expected.
Isaac will be called to the stand on the first Wednesday, followed by Officer Hill.
The trial is expected to last the rest of the week.
PREVIOUS | City manager questions discipline of second CPD officer who used racial slurs | Records: Senior police officials, including the chief, knew the officer said n-word when they approved the reprimand
According to police records, Hill said the n-word to another black man while intervening in a fight at a Westwood home in September 2018:
That’s f—in’ stupid. I told you to walk home, didn’t I? This God— booze got you t—— here fooling around.
Barnette used it to refer to an African-American woman he restrained during his arrest as she struggled and punched him in the face: (“N—– slapped me”) outside the nightclub Brownstone in Roselawn in December 2018, police records show.
Hill received a written reprimand and was cleared to continue working on active duty and off duty, according to police records.
Barnette was stripped of his police credentials, gun and badge and placed on office duty with pay on December 26, 2018. He was not authorized to work on off-duty details.
The chief launched an internal investigation and alerted Duhaney to the situation in an email that was reported in the media shortly after.
“This type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated within the department,” the chief wrote.
“I will update you on the progress of the investigation and make a recommendation for discipline at the end of the disciplinary process.”
MORE | Cincinnati cop under investigation for using ‘N’ word during arrest | CPD releases body camera footage of officer using ‘N’ word while on duty | Mother of woman at center of racial slur case at CPD: ‘She was traumatised’
Two days after Barnette’s suspension, after a member of Police Internal Affairs reported Hill’s disciplinary difference to the Chief, the Chief placed Hill on desk duty and also suspended his police powers with pay.
The chief sent Duhaney another memo saying the way Hill’s discipline was handled was flawed, records show.
Isaac said the violation that should have been enforced prohibits police from expressing, verbally or in writing, any prejudice or offensive comments regarding race, religion, national origin, lifestyle, gender or similar personal characteristics.
Duhaney was concerned about the discrepancy between the handling of the two cases, according to an email he wrote at the time to then-mayor John Cranley and members of the city council.
“The officer at fault only received a reprimand because the case was filed incorrectly when presented to Chief Isaac. This error was only recently discovered. The case is currently in being assessed by the Internal Investigations Section, which should have happened initially, per CPD policy,” his email said.
Both officers would remain on duty until April 2019, when Gottesman filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City prosecutors asked that the prosecution of the officers be moved to federal court, where it was assigned to Judge Dlott.
Both officers also filed grievances, which were upheld in arbitration later that year.
The city was ordered to repay lost wages and remove the suspensions from their records. Discipline was reduced to written reprimands for the two officers.
“Put simply, Chief Isaac erred in not reading the memo carefully enough,” one of the referees wrote. “The fact that his mistake was brought to his attention afterwards does not justify trying to correct it by disciplining (Hill) again. On the contrary, the City must live with the error.
A city spokesperson, Rocky Merz, provided the following statement to FOX19 NOW on Tuesday when we called City Hall for comment:
“The lawsuits brought by Agents Hill and Barnette deal with an entirely different matter from what was decided in arbitration. At issue in the federal lawsuit, brought by the officers, is an allegation that the city racially discriminated against Officer Barnette and Officer Hill when it disciplined them the same for uttering the n-word while on duty.
“These decisions were made because the conduct of both officers was inappropriate and inconsistent with the high standards of professionalism that the city and the citizens of Cincinnati expect of their officers. The city will defend the chief’s decisions to hold these officers accountable and rejects the idea that former chief Eliot Isaac racially discriminated against anyone.
In January 2019, Duhaney announced that he had changed the city’s racial slur policy in October 2018.
Workers who violate it are suspended without pay for 40 hours and must undergo awareness training.
They risk termination for a second offense.
The city council also passed an emergency ordinance requiring all city employees to complete implicit and explicit bias training.
LEARN MORE | Fake, racist, and we won’t tolerate it’: Mayor addresses ‘n-word’ use, announces bias training
Here are the rest of the jury demographics given to us by the judge’s staff on Tuesday when we called to ask:
- Gender: Five female, five male
- Age range: 27 to 83 years old
- Education: Seven have at least some college education, three high school
- Marital status: Four married; Four single and two separated or divorced
- Owner status: Eight yes, two no
- County of Residence: Five in Hamilton County, three in Butler, two in Warren
- Professions: compliance specialist, retired software engineer, product research, crisis consultant, surgical technician. teacher, teaching assistant, manufacturing engineer, retired business owner, retired salesman
Copyright 2022 WXX. All rights reserved.