A federal judge last week issued an order allowing parts of a lawsuit against the City of Homewood, alleging racist treatment of a Black officer at the Homewood Police Department and retaliation for speaking out about it, to move forward.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon in his April 25 order denied the Homewood Police Department’s motion to dismiss veteran Homewood police officer Victor Sims’s allegations of being retaliated against. The judge did dismiss Sims’s allegation that the department discriminated against him by demoting him because he was Black, although the judge did so “without prejudice,” meaning that allegation could be brought up again as the case moves forward.
Sims’s lawsuit states that the officer was told by fellow Homewood officer Lt. Greg Brundage in August 2021, that Sims was being moved from the department’s Special Investigation Unit, where he worked as a detective, and was being reassigned to either work as a school resource officer or as a patrol officer. Sims was told the reassignment was because of a department policy requiring officers to be moved after working in a special assignment for five years.
“Over the years Homewood’s HPD waives, ignores or otherwise does not enforce the aforementioned “Five Year Rule” for its Caucasian officers; while, in Plaintiff’s case, following it to the letter a Black Detective,” the lawsuit reads.
Sims then emailed Homewood Police chief Tim Ross, Brundage and Sgt. Marquard, noting the department allows white officers to remain on special assignments beyond the department’s time limits. He also wrote about instances of the department overlooking white officers’ who are overtly racist, noting when Brundage once entered “Plaintiff’s office at the HPD, “venting” about a Sgt. Smith, who is Caucasian, telling Lt. Brundage he, Sgt. Smith, “couldn’t work for a black man,” (referencing [the sergeant’s] move to the Detective Division) owing to a complaint a Black officer had filed against him.” The white officer, Sgt. Smith, wasn’t fired after the incident, the lawsuit states.
“This shows, within the past 1-2 years, more special accommodation for a white officer,” Sims wrote in the email to his chief and the others.
Sims didn’t receive a response for nearly two weeks after sending the email, then he filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Sept. 8, 2021, the lawsuit reads. He filed an amended charge on Oct. 13, 2021, which noted, among other allegations, that a Sgt. King, who is white, began referring to Sims as “the enemy” for opposing racism within the department.
The lawsuit also alleges that in November 2021, chief Ross and and “other HPD decision-makers concocted a plan to eliminate Detective Sims’ Special Investigations Unit and, with no more job, effectively demote Plaintiff down to patrol officer.”
Ross claimed that doing away with the special investigations unit was done to improve scheduling, the complaint states, but another officer told Sims that the move looked like “punishment” for Sims speaking out.
The lawsuit states that a white officer told Sims “Everybody [in the police department] knows why these moves are happening – because of your complaint! Some of us are getting caught up in it [with upcoming schedule changes] as pawns,” or words to that effect.
Homewood’s chief magistrate, who is white, told Sims in December 2021, that “They’re [the decision-makers] doing it because of your complaint [about racism within the HPD]. Everybody sees that,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit notes other instances of alleged racist behaviors in the police department.
At a July 2016 meeting with chief Ross and several Black officers, who were concerned about racial tension in the department, one officer mentioned in front of Ross that Sgt. S once called a Black officer a “tar baby,” according to the complaint, yet in 2018 Sgt. S was honored with the prestigious “chief’s award.”
The complaint also noted the June 2020 instance of Homewood officer Jon Newland posting to his Instagram account a video of him performing a racist rap in which he mentions Valhalla, norse mythology’s heaven a common term used by white supremacists, including the alt-right white supremacist who shot and killed 51 people at mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch in 2019. Newland also said in the rap “around your neck I flex this choke.” The video was posted nine days before George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. Newland was demoted to a patrol officer, but not fired, over the incident.
Richard Newton, Sims’s attorney, noted to APR by phone Tuesday that over the past half decade or so national debates regarding race discrimination in policing aimed outward from police departments.
“But what’s going virtually unnoticed within the U.S. is the epidemic of race discrimination within police departments pointed inward at Black officers and employees, and perhaps it’s time we started that discussion,” Newton said.
Sims in 2015 filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the department discriminate against Black officers when then-police chief Jim Roberson on July 26 2015, called Black officers in to work a Black Lives Matter protest in Homewood, and that a supervisor told Sims the Black officers were called in to work the protest after their regular shifts because they were Black.
“This is chief. Nobody thought to have any of the black officers come in to work. I gave them a direct order. I want them called. I want them there. I want them in uniform. ASAP. Make sure that gets done,” then-chief Roberson said in audio tape obtained by AL.com in 2015.
APR’s attempts to contact the Homewood Police Department for comment were unsuccessful, but the department declined to comment on the lawsuit, when approached by the Homewood Star.