Cincinnati's Sentinel Police Association is responding to a federal lawsuit accusing Lt. Danita Pettis of creating a hostile and racist work environment. The civil rights organization and the city of Cincinnati are also among those named in the suit.
"This is the most outrageous lawsuit that the Sentinels have seen," says attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents the group. "It will be vigorously defended."
He adds he hopes it will end in a positive way. "Sometimes you just have to take the lemons that are out there and squeeze them hard... it's very important that we stay positive and that we work with what we have to keep the department as a place that's fair for blacks and women to seek their careers and protect the city."
The Sentinels say statements in the lawsuit are inaccurate, inflammatory and seek to undermine affirmative action consent decrees from the 1980s.
The suit alleges the city and its police department instituted "unconstitutional race-based policies for hiring, promotion, discipline and conferring benefits of employment" as laid out in the two "unconstitutional" consent decrees.
"Both plaintiffs are white women," Gerhardstein points out. "Both decrees that they attached to their lawsuit protect against sex discrimination." He also suggests one of the plaintiffs has "one of the most plum assignments in the city - going to Reds games."
In other words, Gerhardstein says they've benefited from the very decrees they're opposing.
Two white female officers, Officer Tamera Brown and Specialist Joy Ludgatis, filed the lawsuit earlier this month. Along with their charges about the department and city, they say Pettis, who is African-American, is vindictive, openly racist and lacks character.
Pettis is Cincinnati's second highest-ranking African-American female officer.
As our news partner WCPO reported:
The suit follows complaints that Brown and Ludgatis filed about their former black female commander, Lt. Danita Pettis, following two roll call incidents in District 4 and a racially-charged public dispute involving Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils that followed.
Brown, who has more than 15 years on the force, claimed that Pettis created a hostile work environment by not sending third relief officers to assist second relief officers under fire during roll call on Nov. 16. Ludgatis, a 27-year veteran, claimed that Pettis made “humiliating, demeaning and unprofessional comments” about her in front of her fellow officers at roll call on Nov. 22.
All three were eventually moved to other departments.
The lawsuit also names the city of Cincinnati, Mayor John Cranley, acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney, former City Manager Harry Black, Chief Eliot Issac, and the Sentinel Police Association as defendants.