MPD leadership, mayor named in federal discrimination lawsuit

Updated: Nov. 9, 2017 at 10:18 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Rank and file leadership within the Montgomery Police Department and the City of Montgomery were hit with a federal lawsuit alleging race and gender bias, and retaliation.

Renee James, a long-time officer with the Montgomery Police Department, received confirmation from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May 2017 that probable cause existed for race and gender discrimination. Her complaint was filed in federal court in August 2017.

The twenty-two page complaint outlines a series of instances where James alleges discrimination by her male counterparts, who reportedly colluded to get her off the job, starting in 2013.  The plaintiff is a fourteen year veteran of MPD, and worked as a detective in the Criminal Investigative Division.

James' lawsuit reports various attempts to alert senior members of the Montgomery Police Department and Department of Public Safety about the reported discrimination.

James' complaint begins with a 2013 incident involving her 17-year-old daughter, who was reportedly beaten on a Montgomery Public School bus by a 17-year-old male.  James lost cell phone contact with her daughter, and while in uniform and city-issued vehicle, James located the bus, and removed the male in question and held him until a sheriff's deputy responded.

The lawsuit states James notified her immediate supervisor, Sergeant, J. Hall, after receiving the call from her daughter, and reiterated the entire incident with Hall in person at C.I.D.  The document alleges Hall failed to advise the C.I.D. Command, Former Chief Brian Jurkofsky, of the incident.

Hall reportedly denied he was notified of all the facts involving the arrest, "so he didn't feel the incident was worthy of notification." The plaintiff told Jurkofsky that Hall was notified, producing cell phone records of the call.

James' complaint states she was charged with failure to notify, wrongful arrest, improper use of city equipment, duties to responsible employment, and a misdemeanor – obstruction of governmental operations for boarding the bus.  The complaint also states Jurkofsky said on numerous occasions he would have done the same thing or worse had it been his child.

During the investigation James was transferred out of C.I.D , stripped of her uniform, weapon, badge, and had to work the second shift back desk for four months.

After the investigation was complete, Jurkofsky suspended James for nineteen days without pay, and ordered her to attend anger management.

The complaint alleges in 2015, two white male detectives were accused of using excessive force against a black male, who later was determined not to be affiliated with the case.  James alleges Jurkofsky didn't strip the detectives of their badges, guns and uniforms, neither were removed from C.I.D.

Despite denying the use of excessive force, the complaint says one detective later admitted to hitting the man in question, and alleges the charges against the detective weren't amended to reveal the development, which is punishable by termination.

It also cites that James was overlooked for a transfer to the Homicide Bureau, a position that was filled by what's described as a rookie General Crimes Detective.

James' complaint states she met with Deputy Chief Ron Cook about the decision to transfer someone with less experience to the Homicide Bureau, but was met with inappropriate and unprovoked sexual comments and gestures.

The lawsuit alleges James was retaliated against by her superiors, one of which allegedly coached the girlfriend of a criminal defendant to file a complaint against James. When James requested her superior to mediate on her allegations of retaliation, she was advised to go home until called to return due to insubordination.  When new Police Chief Ernest Finley was hired, James reportedly met with Finley, who reinstated her duties.

From that point, James returned to duty and received what the complaint describes as letters of reprimand for minuscule actions that generally go unenforced.  After returning to work without a doctor's excuse for taking care of her sick children, she was charged and investigated on six violations including human relations, duties to responsible employment, insubordination, abuse of authority over employees, acting in conflict with the interest of the city, and boisterous and disruptive activity in the workplace.

In the lawsuit, Lieutenant Natasha Walker, with City Investigations, allegedly advised James she received a call from James' supervisor to reopen the investigation to charge James with Truthfulness at All Times, which is punishable by termination.

Walker reportedly told James her case was investigated by another detective, but he did not substantiate the charges against her.  Walker was then called to investigate, but C.I.D. Command wanted the charges to be substantiated against James, which happened in June 2015.

In June, the new department of C.I.D., former deputy chief Scott Simmons, removed James from C.I.D. and transferred to the Patrol Division, and also handed down a punishment of sixty working days without pay.  July of 2015, James reportedly delivered a seventeen page memo to Mayor Todd Strange and Director Chris Murphy detailing the complaints of gender and race bias.

In November 2015, James' lawsuit alleges the City-County Personnel Board hearing was canceled abruptly because she must be served before her complaint can be appealed, and later was not gr anted due process due to issues with the length of James' suspension.

Two of the defendants in the case, Former Deputy Chief Scott Simmons, and Former Deputy Chief Ron Rook retired following independent criminal investigations, unrelated to this complaint.

In a phone interview Thursday, James' attorney, Megan Garcia stated more issues have occurred since the plaintiff filed suit.  James is currently on leave, pending termination and is scheduled for a hearing in the coming weeks to fight for her job.

The lawsuit seeks damages including compensatory damages for lost wages, seniority, out of pocket expenses, and emotional damages.

The City of Montgomery declined to comment on the lawsuit, as it doesn't release statements on pending litigation.  Subsequent court documents, filed in response to the lawsuit by the defendants deny the majority of the claims outlined in James' complaint.

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