Ithaca, N.Y. — An officer says in a new lawsuit that the Ithaca police union is refusing to help him fight disciplinary action taken against him because of his race.
Officer Derrick Moore, who is black, argues in court documents filed this month that the union — called the Police Benevolent Association — has failed to fight on Moore’s behalf but has done so on behalf of white officers facing comparable punishments.
“The PBA has represented white police officers in similar circumstances,” Moore’s lawsuit states.
Moore’s lawsuit also names the City of Ithaca and the Ithaca Police Department as defendants. Moore accuses the city and IPD of violating the terms of the cops’ Collective Bargaining Agreement. He primarily directs the claims of racially disparate treatment against the union.
However, Moore’s attorney said the lawsuit also springs in part from the understanding that the IPD — rather than just the union — has acted with racial bias.
“That’s part of the basis of the legal action we’ve taken here with regard to the city,” said the attorney, Edward Kopko.
Police Chief John Barber said, legally, he couldn’t speak about individual personnel decisions.
However, he did say in an email, “Mayor Myrick and I have worked hard to build a positive, supportive workplace for all of our officers.”
“I understand that Officer Moore’s attorney has suggested that IPD employs a double standard in the way it disciplines black officers as compared to white officers,” Barber said.
“That suggestion is offensive, and false. While the law does not permit me to discuss the particulars of officer disciplinary records, I can say that Mayor Myrick and I have worked hard to ensure unbiased and consistent application of IPD’s rules to all its officers. It’s best for the officers. It’s best for IPD morale. And it’s best for delivering public service meeting the high standards that we set for our officers. It’s what we have consistently done under my administration, and what we’ll continue to do every day.”
The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 12.
So why did Moore face punishment?
According to court records, Chief Barber said Moore violated “Section 4.4: Truthfulness,” and “Section IV 5.1: Altering, Delaying or Falsifying Reports” of the Ithaca police code.
The chief says in court documents that Moore failed to correctly check on the condition of an incarcerated person starting at 7 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2013. Whereas Moore was supposed to check on the jailed person every 15 minutes, the officer only did so twice between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., according to statements by Chief Barber made public in the court records.
Moore compounded the mistake by “untruthfully” filling out the jail log “indicating you checked the prison every fifteen minutes, when in fact you didn’t,” according to records. Barber proposed suspending Moore without pay for two weeks for the offense.
In response, Moore demanded that the case be moved to arbitration. Moore was also facing punishment for something called “the Agway incident” not explained in publicly filed court documents.
The police union met with the city attorney’s office and police chief. After this meeting, the union told Officer Moore it was able to negotiate the city’s punishment “down from 80 hours of vacation to 32 hours of vacation on the Agway incident.”
“This is an extremely good deal,” PBA President John Joly wrote in a letter to Moore, urging the officer not to fight the city’s offer. “…There is no foreseeable benefit to taking these cases to arbitration.”
“…The PBA will not fund any part of taking these cases to arbitration, should you decided to do so. You have the right to retain your own private attorney or other representative and take your chances with arbitration.”
Joly also noted that the union had represented Moore in seven cases since 2006, “all of which involved more than one charge. All of these cases resulted in loss of leave time ranging from 1 to 10 days.”
Officer Moore’s attorney, however, says that the same offenses would not be as strongly punished if committed by a white officer.
“They’re absolutely frivolous,” Edward Kopko said of the accusations against his client.
Additionally, Kopko said, the union represents white police officers far more readily than it does black officers.
“They go to bat for white police officers, but when a black police officer asks the PBA to defend them in an arbitration, they tell them no,” Kopko said, “they have a history of representing white officers and refusing to represent black officers.”
(The PBA could not be reached for comment.)
History of litigation
Previously, two white officers — Chris Miller and Douglas Wright — filed lawsuits claiming that the city had discriminated against them on the basis of their race.
Both of those cases are ongoing. Officer Wright, who has been among the highest-paid IPD officers, says in a lawsuit that he was unfairly passed over for promotions twice, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.
Officer Chris Miller, whose history can be read about here, sued the city after he was fired by IPD.
As Miller’s lawsuit unfolded, documents emerged accusing a Lt. Marlon Byrd — who is black — of aiding drug dealers.
Officer Moore was later himself implicated as part of that supposed scheme. Both Byrd and Moore were later fully exonerated in a federal investigation.
In his statement, Chief Barber said he hopes to move IPD forward from the divisive lawsuits.
“Discrimination lawsuits against the City are about IPD’s past,” Barber said. “…We must focus on the IPD of tomorrow if we are to get past yesterday.”
Additional specifics about the case
Kopko, Moore’s attorney, enumerates specific complaints about the arbitration.
A few of them are:
1 — Kopko said that the hearing was “untimely,” and that the arbitration hearing was supposed to have been conducted within 45 days after the discipline. It didn’t do so.
2 — Kopko says the PBA can’t force a defendant to get his own attorney.
“Moore never agreed to share the cost of an arbitrator and the imposition of such costs upon him create unreasonable financial hardship,” Kopko says.
3 — The PBA, Kopko says, can’t refuse to represent Moore on the basis of his race in the event of arbitration.