White Cop Settles Racism Suit After Ancestry.com Says He’s Part Black
A Hastings police sergeant who says he was ridiculed at the police station after a genetic test showed he was part black settled his lawsuit against the city and top officials.
Cleon Brown will receive $65,000 from the city’s insurer.
He will be on paid administrative leave until Oct. 31, when he will resign, unless he obtains full-time employment before that, according to an agreement obtained by MLive and The Grand Rapids Press in a Freedom of Information request.
Brown said he was subjected to racial taunts after an Ancestry.com test showed that his race and national origin was 18 to 33 percent “sub-Saharan African.”
At Christmas, someone hung a black Santa Clause figurine with “18%” written on its white beard. It was put in Brown’s stocking.
He said other officers whispered, “Black Lives Matters,” and pumped their fists, while the police chief called him, “Kunte,” a character in Alex Haley’s novel, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.”
The city said police Chief Jeff Pratt ordered racial comments to end. Brown started his own trouble by joking about results of the DNA test that he said showed he was “18-percent African American,” the city said.
The city said “African American” isn’t a possible test result.
It also said that Ancestry.com does not provide information on race, and that Brown is not part of a protected class.
“If plaintiff is allowed to be included as the member of a protected class because of the self-reported results of a commercial ancestry test, then the courts will be in the business of ‘certifying bloodlines and races,'” Hastings’ attorney, Michael Bogren wrote, citing previous case law.
“Ancestry.com’s website also states that the test results do not definitively reveal where a person’s ancestors actually originated; only that there are shared characteristics in genes, which might or might not indicate a person’s ancestors are actually from that geographic area,” the city said.
Brown alleged state and federal civil-rights violations and violation of the state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. He said he was victim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He served seven years in the U.S. Army and was 30-percent combat disabled. He joined Hastings Police Department in 1998, and was a “decorated” police sergeant, earning two life-saving awards, his attorney, Karie Boylan, said in court records.
She said the stress affected his health and ability to work.
She said officers turned their back on her client after he filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Based on the openly hostile, retaliatory behaviors displayed by the Defendants (the City Manager, Police Chief, the Deputy Chief, one of four sergeants, and one of seven Officers), and tacit approval of Defendant’s conduct by many other Hastings officers, it is more likely than not, Plaintiff will not have adequate back up in the event of an emergency,” Boylan wrote.
The Hastings City Council on July 23 approved a mediated settlement. The lawsuit was filed in May 2017 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
The settlement said that neither side is considered the prevailing party.
City Manager Jeff Mansfield released a statement on the city’s behalf: “Suffice it to say that the process to resolve these matters is less than perfect, so the outcome of the process is less than ideal. But the City Council agreed that entering into this mediated settlement agreement would allow the City to focus its efforts and resources on more productive endeavors in the days ahead.”
Boylan, the officer’s attorney, said her client felt “bullied” by the city and could not afford to continue litigation.
She said he and his wife want to put the ordeal behind them, so he can find another job. He could still work in law enforcement but not in Hastings.
She said her client was known as a “good cop” who was “well-liked and respected” by other officers.
“The department ruined his life.”