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Army vet Michigan police officer suing chief, city for racism after discovering he’s part black

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Hastings Police Sgt. Cleon Brown (L) and a stocking stuffer with 18% written on it as a reference to his African heritage. Credit: U.S. District Court.
Hastings Police Sgt. Cleon Brown (L) and a stocking stuffer with 18% written on it as a reference to his African heritage (R). Credit: U.S. District Court.


After a genetic test through Ancestry.com, a Hastings, Michigan officer alleges police leaders and colleagues subjected him to racial taunts.

Sgt. Cleon Brown tells MLive.com the genetic test revealed he’s 18 percent black and when he shared the results … the chief and coworkers had comments.

Brown says Chief Jeff Pratt called him, “Kunte” a character in the novel “Roots,” and says his police colleagues would whisper “Black Lives Matter” and pump their fists as the passed him in the hall.

MLive.com reports the mayor, who retired in January, also told racial jokes, according to Brown.

Brown reveals for MLive.com that during Christmas, the department hanged stockings with names of the officers on a Christmas tree. A black Santa Claus figurine — with “18%” written on its white beard — was put in Brown’s stocking.

Brown filed a federal lawsuit alleging state and federal civil-rights violations and violation of the state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. He claims intentional infliction of emotional distress, according the report.

Sgt. Brown was awarded two combat medals while serving in the Army, according to the lawsuit.
Sgt. Brown was awarded two combat medals while serving in the Army, according to the lawsuit.

Brown is now suing the city of Hastings, police Chief Jeff Pratt, City Manager Jeff Mansfield, Deputy Chief Dale Boulter and Sgt. Kris Miller.

The city argues negativity directed toward Brown is his fault.

Mansfield released a statement by the city in response to Brown’s claim of discrimination.

“Sgt. Brown, in a very joking and jovial manner, informed several of his fellow officers that he had recently taken a DNA test through Ancestry.com and the results showed that he was 18% African American,” MLive.com reports the statement reads.

The city argues Ancestry.com’s website doesn’t include “African American” as a possible test result.

“Ancestry.com’s website also states that the test results do not definitively reveal where a person’s ancestors actually originated; only that there are shared characteristics in genes, which might or might not indicate a person’s ancestors are actually from that geographic area,” the city said in its statement.

MLive.com reports the city said that it’s uncertain that Brown is part of a protected class under civil-rights laws, even assuming that the Ancestry.com test results are valid. Racial discrimination laws are “not designed to protect those who can demonstrate some trace amount of a particular race or geographic origin … ,” the city said.

Brown’s attorney said once defendants became aware of the suit, the chief and deputy chief then “conducted highly coercive, offensive, intimidating employee interviews asking only leading questions,” Attorney Karie Boylan tells MLive.com.

She said the defendants “unfriended” Brown on Facebook, and would not allow him to play in annual charity basketball games.

She said the city manager ignored him and the police chief either ignored him or was “curt.” Pratt also asked Brown to return to patrol officer, rather than sergeant, the lawsuit said.

Brown’s attorney alleges her client could face unseen risk at work because other officers may not respond to a possible request for backup on the job.

“Based on the openly hostile, retaliatory behaviors displayed by the Defendants (the City Manager, Police Chief, the Deputy Chief, one of four sergeants, and one of seven Officers), and tacit approval of Defendant’s conduct by many other Hastings officers, it is more likely than not, Plaintiff will not have adequate back up in the event of an emergency,” Boylan wrote.

While the city says it responded immediately and appropriately, MLive.com reports Brown’s attorney says no investigations have taken place.

“Not surprising in light of the fact that the Mayor, City Manager, Chief of Police, Deputy Chief and one of the four Sergeants are the primary instigators of the discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation.”

Boylan said the stress has affected Brown’s health, and he may not be medically able to continue working, according to MLive.com.

 

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