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Monday, October 5, 2009

Former Black WPB police officer wins discrimination lawsuit

Thu Oct 1, 2009

Former Black WPB police officer wins discrimination lawsuit, but is awarded
nothing in monetary damages

By K. Chandler, Originally posted 9/30/2009, Westside Gazette

After waiting nearly a decade for his day in court, former West Palm Beach police officer William McCray finally had his discrimination case heard, but the end results were not what anyone might have imagined.

McCray had wanted between $100,000 and $150,000 in compensatory damages for years of alleged discrimination on the force. What he got instead was a verdict in his favor from the jury, but little else.

Testifying last was Sheriff Ric Bradshaw who was the West Palm Beach Chief of Police for eight years before ending his career with the police department in 2004 after he successfully ran for Sheriff of Palm Beach County.

While the former police chief recalled warning McCray 10 years ago that he'd better "pick it up and pay attention to business," Bradshaw had problems with recalling many other incidents that McCray's attorneys Sid Garcia and Barry Silver brought up to bolster McCray's discrimination case, including the fact that 15 Black police officers had written the department alleging discrimination.

Among the issues brought before the court by the plaintiff's legal team was the double standard that allowed White officers to get away with more serious infractions, while Black officers were investigated and punished far more
severely for less serious infractions.

Case in point was former Detective Geoffrey Woodward who testified that he'd been given a two-day suspension for falsifying information to a defense lawyer during a deposition involving a man fighting a child abuse charge. By contrast, McCray — who had by then filed his discrimination suit — was terminated for allegedly lying during an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation that resulted from an incident at the 45 Street Flea Market in which a citizen filed a complaint against McCray after he'd been ticketed while parking in a no parking zone. It might be noted that after he was terminated from the WPB Police Department, McCray was later hired on as a Sheriff's deputy with Palm Beach County, Fla. which was then under the leadership of Sheriff Robert Neumann.

The real `kicker' in this long-awaited case, however, was that somehow the seven-member, all-White jury misunder-stood or misinterpreted the trial court's jury instructions and instead of awarding McCray substantial damages for the pain and suffering that resulted from harsher disciplinary actions and other proven discriminatory actions, the jury instead awarded him a mere $3,000 in economic damages to recoup lost wages.

According to Calvin Bryant — one of five police officers who won a 2004 discrimination law-suit against the City of West Palm Beach – much of the jury's confusion may have resulted from pre-trial motions forbid-ding the plaintiff's lawyers from presenting evidence or bringing up McCray's termination during the trial.

"Under all of the testimony, the jury themselves obviously came to the conclusion that McCray had been retaliated against and fired. But because of all the pre-trial maneuvering, the termination issue was excluded from the trial. But the jury, because of their own personal feelings based on evidence they heard and testimony, wanted to correct that issue."

"If there's any blame to be shared, the trial court judge himself should bear much of the responsibility for confusing the jury. A previous judge entered the order to exclude any testimony regarding McCray's termination, but Circuit Judge Donald Hafele had the power to overrule or set aside the pre-trial motions.

"There were attempts made by attorneys Garcia and Silver to get that ruling overturned or reversed before Judge Hafele, but he would not change it," stated Bryant.

Now, after all of that, McCray's lawyers may have no other recourse, but to call for another trial just to determine damages.

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