LOS ANGELES - A black LA police officer was awarded $1.2 million by a jury Tuesday for being the target of vulgar racial harassment by a white supervisor and other officers.
Officer Earl Wright, a 23-year LAPD veteran, alleged that the department did not take his complaints seriously, which caused him to be hospitalized and miss seven months of work because of stress and anxiety.
In one instance detailed in the lawsuit documents, Wright was given a 20-year anniversary cake with a fried chicken leg and slice of watermelon on top. The cake was presented to him by Sgt. Peter Foster, a white officer who supervised the Community Relations Office in Central Division, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In another instance, when Wright asked Foster for permission to leave work early, Foster responded, "Why? You gotta go pick watermelons?"
In 2010, Foster sent Wright a text message depicting one yellow duckling with its arms raised above its head while standing in front of five black ducklings, according to the lawsuit, NBC reports. Under the depiction was a message that used a slang version of the "N" word to ask Wright what he was up to.
Wright also alleged that his face and that of another officer, Lenny Davis, were superimposed on a "Sanford and Son" poster that was plastered around the department.
The city argued that Wright failed for many months to report the incidents and that Wright laughed at the racist jokes. Wright's lawyer responded that Wright was afraid of facing retaliation if he spoke up, CBS reports.
The jury awarded Wright $600,000 for past economic damages and $600,000 for future damages.
Wright's verdict is the second seven-figure payout for the city in the past two weeks. Last week, the City Council approved a $1.25-million settlement for two lesbian officers who claimed they had been sexually harassed by their supervisor, the Associated Press reports. In the same unit, there have recently been discrimination claims by a Latino officer and two Asian officers as well.
Wright said he plans to stay with the LAPD and has been assigned to the officer training division, according to NBC. Foster was at first transferred and has since been fired.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he was "truly saddened by the events that occurred in that work environment perpetrated by a few individuals, including Officer Wright," the Times reports. He added that the department "has used its experience from the allegations revealed in this case to more aggressively monitor workplace environments and investigate allegations of misconduct."
The LAPD has recently faced increased scrutiny after ex-officer Christopher Dorner left a trail of violence to avenge what he said was a race-based firing.
After Dorner's cop-killing spress, at least six terminated police officers want their disciplinary cases reopened for investigation. Beck said the review of Dorner's firing is underway, but it's too early to comment on the review.
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