Local citizens who believe they’ve been victims of racially-biased police now have a path to pursue justice: an NAACP-run call center that will log public complaints.
Legal and minority advocacy officials Friday announced efforts to document possible racial profiling during encounters with police, including Fort Lauderdale officers recently fired over a racially-charged video and cellphone text messages.
The NAACP plans to record and vet cases received at its local branch and present them to the U.S. Department of Justice for review, said Marsha Ellison, president of the NAACP’s Broward County branch.
Ellison and officials from the Broward Public Defender’s Office were joined by two mothers Friday who said their teenage children were subjected to racial profiling and racial slurs, including the N-word, during interactions with Fort Lauderdale police.
“We want to make sure the citizens’ voices have been heard,” Ellison said. “I understand [Fort Lauderdale police] said it was a thorough investigation. However, I cannot find a citizen that was spoken to, anyone that believed they were a victim, their voices have not been heard.”
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said there is a “subculture” within the police department that condones racist behavior. Officers who knew about the racially-charged material did not report it to superiors, he said.
“What’s truly alarming is not just the prejudices, it’s not just discrimination, we have people who have a badge and a gun who think it is acceptable or even funny to talk about killing black teenagers or young black men,” Finkelstein said. “Enough is enough. This is not the Deep South anymore.”
The fired officers were James Wells, 30, Jason Holding, 31, and Christopher Sousa, 25.
Officer Alex Alvarez, 22, resigned before the investigation was completed. Police say he created “The Hoods,” a mock movie trailer that included scenes of a Ku Klux Klan member, a doctored image of President Barack Obama with gold teeth and a bloody crime scene.
The officers lost their jobs following a five-month internal affairs investigation that concluded last week. Alvarez’s ex-fiancee alerted Police Chief Frank Adderley, who is black, and provided the racist text messages and video she found on Alvarez’s personal cellphone.
In addition to the racial slurs, the text messages also included derogatory remarks about Hispanics, gays and co-workers, according to the internal affairs report.
The hate-filled text messages and video sent a clear message to the black community, officials said.
“The tone is of killing, it’s of hurting, it is of identifying folks to stick charges on based simply on the color of their skin, based on their race,” Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes said.
The Fort Lauderdale Fraternal Order of Police president in an email said he could not comment on the case late Thursday.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said he appreciated the NAACP’s efforts in encouraging victims to come forward.
“There is zero tolerance for this type of behavior within the City of Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “We remain committed to working every day to restore the community’s fath and trust in our law enforcement officers, and repairing any damage to the strong bonds that exist between our neighbors and our Police Department.”
The internal affairs investigation was a “cursory review,” Weekes said. Police should have done more digging during their investigation, he said.
Finkelstein now wants the dismissal of more than 50 pending criminal cases in which the four police officers were involved. Another 117 closed cases also involving Wells, Holding, Sousa and Alvarez should also be reviewed for racial bias, Weekes said.
In a letter Wednesday to the Department of Justice, Finkelstein said the officers’ cases needed to be revisited: “I do not believe that their hateful conduct was limited to personal text messages and conversations. I also do not believe that the Fort Lauderdale Police Department conducted a full investigation.”
The Broward State Attorney’s Office has already begun reviewing those cases, a spokesperson said.
Michelle Davis, 47, said her 17-year-old son was accused of robbery last year and kicked in the head and beaten in the back of a patrol car. Her son was called a n—–, Davis said.
“Any of the parents that hear me, come forward, cause justice needs to be done,” said Davis, who said she had difficulty filing a complaint with the police department and told her child “just keep praying, cause justice is going to come.”