I-Team: Allegations of racism surface in Battle Creek Police Dept.
Updated: Thursday, August 15 2013, 09:02 PM EDT
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Newschannel 3 I-Team is learning that two Battle Creek police officers have been disciplined after violating city policy.
The officers were investigated because they were involved in posting and writing on a racially-insensitive poster inside the city's police department.
The two officers who have been reprimanded told their bosses they didn't mean to offend anybody putting up a poster referencing the movie Napoleon Dynamite, and that it was simply a joke.
But the managers at the Battle Creek Police Department didn't find the joke funny and neither did a Battle Creek officer who is at the center of the controversy.
If you've seen the movie, you're familiar with one of its most memorable gags--a simple t-shirt that says "Vote for Pedro."
In the movie, a transfer student from Mexico who runs for election at an American high school and ends up being elected class president.
At the Battle Creek Police Department earlier this year, Officer Tom Rivera, who is Hispanic, was involved in his own election, as he decided to run for office in the local police union.
On the day of the election, at least four posters were placed on the walls of the police station with the movie's Pedro character displayed.
Later, another officer wrote below the picture on one poster, Tom Rivera for Chief Steward, with an arrow pointing to the picture.
On another poster, the words "Viva El Thomas" were written.
Documents we obtained show it's clear Rivera was very offended by what happened, and notified his superiors immediately, to inform them that he didn't think it was right.
In a statement to Newschannel 3, Rivera's lawyer Matt Glaser said Rivera felt he was a victim of racism.
Glaser said he hoped the department would send a strong message to its employees regarding what happened, so the I-Team investigated how BCPD handled it.
Documents obtained by the I-Team show the police department investigated the incident internally over several months and found that two officers were involved.
Police documents indicate Officer Eric Andrews put up the posters, and animal control officer Mike Ehart wrote Rivera's name on the pictures.
"The investigation is unable to prove that the officers' actions were specifically meant to harass Officer Rivera. Their actions, however, clearly violated the city's nondiscrimination policy which prohibits the displaying or distributing of offensive materials based upon one or more of the protected categories. Violations of City policy can lead to corrective action up to and including dismissal," the investigation concluded.
Before the internal investigation was complete, Deputy Police Chief James Saylor sent a memo to all BCPD personnel about the incident, reiterating the city's non-discrimination policy, and threatening officers that they could lose their job if it happened again.
Finally, the two officers involved were disciplined for what happened--a memo obtained by Newschannel 3 indicated that the corrective action for the two officers was a documented oral reprimand.
Glaser told Newschannel 3 that his client was not happy with the outcome, saying, "the reality is I think police officers in Battle Creek in general, when you get to the bottom of it, they're playing fast and loose."
Police Chief Jackie Hampton chose to answer our questions in the form of a statement, fearing legal action against his department may result from this case.
Regarding the level of discipline, Chief Hampton said, "I am very confident this behavior will not be repeated. The discipline we chose is designed to alter and change behavior.
"I think the employees were honest when they were interviewed. Both have integrity. It was a joke from their perspective. From our perspective, it was far from a joke," he added.
A study done several years ago by community members showed the majority of Hispanics in Battle Creek don't believe police officers treat them with respect.
On Thursday, leaders in the community say that over the last couple of years, there is a growing trust, despite these events.
Rivera's attorney says his client has started the process to potentially sue the city for what happened.