Greensboro settles several police discrimination lawsuits

Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson and Mayor Robbie Perkins
The City of Greensboro and plaintiffs in three lawsuits alleging racial discrimination within the city's police department announced a $500,000 settlement today after city council voted in favor of the settlement in closed session last night. 

Though confident the city would have prevailed in court in two Alexander vs. City of Greensboro cases and the Fulmore vs. City of Greensboro case, Mayor Robbie Perkins and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson said they voted in favor of a settlement to save the city money on legal fees, provide a sense of closure, protecting residents from enduring a lengthy trial that would focus on trauma and negativity and allow the city to focus on other important issues like jobs and economic development.

"It's a way to close it with dignity and honor," Johnson said at a press conference this afternoon. City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan, Police Chief Ken Miller and City Manager Denise Turner Roth also answered questions. 

Perkins said the cases have "burdened" the city for a long time, adding that "It's time to move on."

L to R: Shah-Khan, Turner Roth and Miller
Councilmembers Nancy Vaughan, Zack Matheny and Tony Wilkins voted against settling the suits, according to city spokesperson Donnie Turlington. 

The city has already spent $2.3 million in legal fees related to the lawsuits, Shah-Khan said, and Johnson said the city previously offered a larger settlement sum for the cases that was turned down by plaintiffs.

A press release today from Higgins Benjamin, one of the law offices representing the plaintiffs, said the officers feel "vindicated." Here's the full statement:

"After suffering years of hostility during the Wray administration due only to their race and then being vilified in certain local media outlets, 38 of the plaintiffs in the Alexander cases have finally gotten justice.  Those plaintiffs who have now settled their claims against the City and other defendants feel that they’ve finally been vindicated.  These current and former Greensboro Police Department officers have done a great service for this City and civil servants everywhere who have endured a racially hostile work environment.  Likewise, settlement – and the closure it brings – is in the City’s best interest as well."

Miller and Shah-Khan talking before the press conference
The city did not admit liability in the case but did point to numerous ways it has improved police practices and procedures in the wake of the discrimination suits. Former officers Charles Cherry and Joseph Pryor did not agree to the settlement and will continue with their cases with the city, and separate but related cases from current Capt. James Hinson, who is black, and former Chief David Wray, who is white, are not resolved. Hinson's case is scheduled to go to court on Oct. 8.

Perkins said the police department has improved significantly and that he's very proud of the department. In a press release, Perkins acknowledged that the lawsuits stem from a time "in the history of the city and police department where some unfortunate actions on the part of the city and plaintiffs occurred," but continued to say that "confidence in the Greensboro police has been restored."

Activists and community members continue to push for greater oversight for the police department around issues of disparate treatment and racial discrimination, focused primarily on interactions between officers and residents rather than within the department. 

The city's press release cited a survey claiming that more than 80 percent of residents are pleased with the police department's work and said the department implemented 200 of 226 recommendations from a 2008 management and staffing study. Chief Miller said at the press conference that his department is still reviewing 15 of the additional recommendations but said some would have a budgetary impact. A recent presentation by the chief included similar numbers about positive community perceptions of the department but noted a disparity in perceptions based on race.


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