Public Safety Director Frank Straub is expected to propose promotions for a number of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers Tuesday morning to settle existing lawsuits and complaints in a plan that even Mayor Ballard acknowledges may not work.
At stake are outstanding disputes regarding lawsuits and complaints filed by minority officers, former sheriff’s deputies and white officers who claim to be victims of reverse discrimination.
The attempt to resolve an ongoing lawsuit filed by 19 black police officers is central to the plan, which may be presented to the Merit Board at 10 a.m. in the Public Assembly Room at the City County Building.
“What it says is the past promotion processes have resulted in lawsuits, multiple lawsuits, and that process was flawed,” said Mayor Greg Ballard. “We wanted to get a process that everybody agreed on and then try to remedy those in the past so we can essentially have a reset and go forward.”
“We just don’t have enough African American supervisors, particularly on the road in the department and that’s been an issue for years,” said Rev. Charles Harrison of the Ten Point Coalition.
“This has a smell all over it coming 30 days before the election, finally doing the right thing for the wrong reasons,” said City County Councilman Duke Oliver.
Sources tell Fox 59 News that Straub’s plan centers on the resolution of the lawsuit filed in December of 2008 by 19 black police officers claiming they were unfairly passed over for promotion. That suit has languished in federal court. In exchange for agreeing to promote a majority of those minority officers, the Fraternal Order of Police was promised that the director would recommend that several other suits and complaints, involving reverse discrimination, sheriff’s deputies treated unfairly under the IMPD system and officers seeking to take the next promotions test, would be resolved in the officers’ and FOP’s favor. Last week, the FOP voted to not take a position on the Straub recommendations and to allow the legal and complaint process to work itself out.
Nathaniel Lee, an attorney representing the minority officers, some of whom would be promoted, wrote a letter to the director’s office, stating, “The twelve IMPD officers that are currently on the proposed list for promotion will be presented to the merit board Tuesday (and) the seven remaining IMPD officers will remain a party to the lawsuit.”
Lee also threatened to file ethics complaints versus the city if it continued to contact his clients outside of his presence. Lee was angered that Straub negotiated through Rev. Harrison to officer the minority officers their promotions in exchange for dismissing their lawsuit.
“I don’t think all of the officers were aggrieved,” said Harrison. “I think there are a number of them that we can prove were aggrieved. I think others of them were not and I don’t think we ought to promote them just for the sake of promoting them.”
Councilman Duke Oliver, a member of the council’s public safety committee, said that while he favors more minority supervisors in the ranks of IMPD, he opposes this deal which doesn’t fix the system or resolve the issues of all the officers involved in the lawsuit.
“It’s like being on the Edmund Petty Bridge (in Selma, Alabama, in 1965) and walking in reverse.
“It’s not a victory for the officers because it’s being done underhandedly at the expense of some other innocent person, including some white officers and some black officers,” said Oliver.
Oliver said the Ballard administration is rushing to push these promotions through to garner the mayor support in the black community in advance of next month’s mayoral election.
“It’s like election day…a bottle of whiskey and two dollars for your vote,” said Oliver.
“That’s a disgusting comment,” said the Mayor Ballard. “It really is. We’ve been working on this for a while now. This is important for the future of the police department and this is important for the future of the city.”
Last Thursday, when Fox 59 News broke this story, Straub said, “I can’t discuss pending litigation at this time.” About 24 hours later, Straub issued a department-wide letter to IMPD officers, dated Wednesday, that sought to explain the pending promotions of at least two classes of officers involved in promotions complaints or lawsuits.
“To resolve the outstanding litigation, we will have to promote some members of our department and not others. We recognize that this is an imperfect solution, and that ‘skipping’ persons is what led to the existing litigation. However, it is important to note, that if the plaintiffs are successful in their pending litigation, the court will order the department to ‘skip’ persons on the 2006 or 2008 promotion lists.”
Mayor Ballard indicated that more lawsuits could be filed by officers skipped over in this process in order to solve the past litigation, but, “You don’t know what a judge is going to do.”
A source indicates to Fox 59 News that if a potential 11 minority officers are promoted to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and captain, they will be skipped over dozens of white and black officers to attain those ranks.