A former officer of the Vancouver police department, in Washington state, has won a $1.65 million out-of-court settlement in his racial bias lawsuit, which claimed he was called a "sandnigger" by a superior, received racially explicit voicemails and was dispatched, without any backup, to confront a man with a weapon. The amount is reportedly "the largest single-plaintiff employment-related" payout ever in the state, and according to the plaintiff could've been far more, had he gone to trial. From India-West reporter Sunita Sohrabji's article:
In his suit, Navin Sharma, a nine-year veteran of the force, said he was subjected to nearly seven years of racial harassment on the job, beginning when he testified against senior members of the department in a 1998 internal affairs investigation.
He was fired in 2006 for cutting and pasting information into DUI reports, a practice allegedly used by other officers on the force, who were not disciplined.
“In my 16 years as a law enforcement officer, I have never seen an agency go after an officer so zealously, with such complete disregard to his civil rights as I have in this case against Officer Sharma,” said Corporal Stephen Pfuhl in an affidavit, adding that other officers on the force had committed “far more egregious acts” than Sharma’s report errors, but were not disciplined.
According to the article Sharma (picture from India-West) is a graduate of St. Xavier's in Mumbai, and has dual master's degrees in geological and petroleum engineering. After spending several years in the oilfields of Alaska, he joined the Vancouver Police Department in 1997. A year later, he was asked to testify in an internal affairs investigation against two officers who "allegedly misbehaved during a domestic violence prevention-training program."
“I told the truth as I saw it,” Sharma told India-West. “The cops were not happy and a whole vendetta began against me,” he said, adding that he was largely unaware of the retaliation at the beginning, until a fellow officer – a 25-year veteran of the force – told him of the conspiracy against him and claimed the cops were “going to teach me a lesson on the streets.”
Sharma said he ignored the harassment, which included his SWAT uniform being stolen from his locker, a satirical recording of a man with an Indian accent repeatedly played over the 911 dispatch system, and several occasions when officers failed to back him up on patrol calls.
The tipping point came in April 2000, when Sharma was dispatched to the home of a Vietnam veteran who was physically abusing his wife. The dispatch indicated the man had a weapon, yet Sharma was the only officer dispatched to the call.
“Why was I being sent by myself, I wondered,” Sharma told India-West. “This was a situation where somebody could have got killed and I was there alone.”
According to The Oregonian "at
least 30 police officers and five to 10 former city attorney's office
employees were ready to testify for Sharma" if the case had gone to
Interestingly, the whole thing started when another Indian, attorney Ketu Shah, made the initial complaint about the two officers misbehaving at a domestic violence prevention program. From Willamette Week, of Portland, Oregon:
"...Shah noticed some cops acting unprofessionally. One slept. Others mocked one of the female speakers and drew offensive cartoons.
The female speaker, a Washington State Patrol chaplain, “discussed how her son got mixed up with a biker crowd and is now serving time,” Shah later wrote in a memo to his boss.
“The cartoon implies she is a ‘homo bike hater,’” Shah wrote. He added that some cops were “speaking loudly enough to disrupt [the] speaker” and threw “class completion certificates in the trash in view of speakers at the end of class.”
The Willamette article also notes how a recording of a prank call--a fairly well-known one, in which "Kerpal," a guy with a fake Indian accent, calls an actual Indian family and blames them for kicking his dog--became part of the police department culture.
Referred to by some in the force as the “Sharma tape” or the “kick-the-dog tape,” it was played repeatedly over the 9-1-1 dispatch system and on the public-address system in the dispatch center when Sharma was responding to calls.
In a sworn affidavit, a police supervisor, who asked that his name not be revealed for fear of retaliation, says: “I was driving around on duty in my VPD patrol car and heard a heavily East Indian-accented audio tape being played over the cruiser’s police radio…. I remember finding the tape very derogatory and ethnically demeaning. I could not believe that someone would actually broadcast this over a law-enforcement radio.”
Sharma says it distressed him to learn the tape was being played regularly—often when he was dispatched on a call.
“For a long time, I refused to believe there was racial animus against me,” he says. “When I found out about the ‘kick the dog,’ I was convinced.”
The settlement, according to India-West, "requires the City of Vancouver to purge Sharma’s personnel file of any negative documentation, and to note that he retired in good standing, Scott Blankenship, one of Sharma’s attorneys, told India-West. Sharma will get his badge back and any lost state employee retirement benefits. He will also receive a letter of gratitude from City Manager Pat McDonnell thanking him for his years of outstanding service and for developing the city’s SWAT Tactical Emergency Medical Support Unit, the only one of its kind in the Northwest."