2012-02-10 "Richmond police bias trial hears of bizarre behavior" by Kevin Fagan from "San Francisco Chronicle"
(02-10) 10:55 PST RICHMOND -- Between tales of one police captain dropping to all fours to yell "don't beat me" and black and white commanders angrily proclaiming they were being discriminated against, jurors got a stark depiction Thursday of a Richmond Police Department consumed with racial tensions in 2006 when Chris Magnus took over as chief.
The revelations came as Magnus spent a second day testifying in a Contra Costa County Superior Court trial over a lawsuit claiming he had discriminated against seven high-ranking black officers.
Plaintiffs' attorney Stephen Jaffe tried to make Magnus look like a disconnected leader who revealed racist bents in quips and favoritism, while the chief attempted to portray himself as working to dispel racial tensions that he found when he took the job.
One of the most bizarre moments came when Magnus described an incident in which then-Capt. Cleveland Brown, one of the commanders suing him, came into his office to complain that he didn't want then-Capt. Lori Ritter to become deputy chief.
Magnus said Brown had told him he thought Ritter - who, like Magnus, is white and a defendant in the trial - was a racist, and then had pantomimed his displeasure.
"I remember him getting down on all fours and raising up his arms and saying, 'Don't beat me, Miss Lori!' " Magnus said. "It was kind of hard to tell if he was joking or if he was acting out a story.
"I was floored by it," the chief told the jury. However, he added, "that was pretty typical for Cleveland. He was very animated, very loud, very extreme."
He also said Brown had told him that "an African American captain shouldn't have to work for a white female."
In their lawsuit, the black commanders contend it was Magnus who made racist remarks, telling plaintiff Lt. Arnold Threets to imagine Ritter standing over Brown, cracking a whip and telling him to dance.
After the exchange with Brown a few months after Magnus took the job, the chief made Ritter his deputy. Brown was later demoted to lieutenant.
Magnus also described a hellish staff retreat in Napa nine months into his job, in which he tried to get black and white commanders to discuss racial tensions and cliques in the department.
Instead, he said, Brown and others remained hostile and said they didn't want to cooperate with his new, community-minded policing style.
The chief said he was "upset" by the tenor of the retreat and told his officers that "if you want to engage in bias, engage in cliques, then you need to work somewhere else, or I will make your life a living hell."
The suing commanders have contended that such statements created a racially hostile workplace. Magnus said his comment "was dramatic, yes. But I was disappointed in what I was hearing and not hearing in that room."