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Sunday, January 28, 2007

White Officer Gets $800,000 in Racial-Bias Suit

Saturday, January 27, 2007
Jim Nichols

A federal court jury awarded $800,000 to a white police officer Friday, finding the city of Cleveland racially discriminated against him after he shot a black youth.

Patrolman Edward Lentz Jr. won the verdict five years after he wounded 12-year-old Lorenzo Locklear to end a confrontation that began outside the home of Mayor-elect Jane Campbell's Shaker Square home.

During the ensuing city investigation, Lentz's bosses yanked him from patrol duty and detailed him to the police gymnasium for 652 days. That miserable duty, Lentz claimed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, lasted far longer than any given to a black officer involved in a shooting.

It was clearly punitive, Lentz contended, and made him a scapegoat to appease black community leaders protesting a string of incidents in which white officers shot black suspects.

The all-white, nine-member jury found the city deliberately and intentionally discriminated against Lentz, and did so as a re sult of an official "policy or custom." Jurors also found the city retaliated against Lentz by filing disciplinary charges to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when he complained during his protracted gym detail.

Lentz tearfully hugged family members and other supporters after the jury filed out of U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley's courtroom. He declined to comment. But lead attorney Edward Kramer said the jury sent a message that it's intolerable that the city capitulated to political pressures at the expense of an officer who, "if you scratched him, would bleed blue."

"This verdict has given him back his honor and reputation," Kramer said.

Assistant City Law Director Kevin Gibbons extended his hand to Lentz afterward. "Officer," he said solemnly, "I hope we can all get past this."

The city, however, isn't letting the matter pass. Mayor Frank Jackson said through a spokesman that Cleveland would "exhaust all legal remedies as it appeals the jury decision . . . and rejects the notion that any of the city's investigation policies discriminate against anyone for any reason."

The jury's findings are Lentz's latest vindication. City prosecutors charged him with felonious assault and falsification in 2002, but a grand jury declined to indict on the assault charge and a judge dismissed the other count. Then the city dismissed similar departmental charges.

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