Calif. Police Officer's Lawsuit Claims Racial Bias

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A Riverside police sergeant who filed a racial discrimination complaint in 2010 is now suing the city, alleging he has suffered harassment, discrimination and retaliation for more than a decade.

Valmont Graham, a career officer who has been a Riverside sergeant for 17 years, initially lodged a complaint with the state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing claiming he has been passed over for promotions since 2001 because he is African American and has spoken out about discrimination.

In a suit filed last week in Riverside County Superior Court, Graham reiterates those claims and seeks an unspecified amount of damages. Graham declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Russell Perry, who could not be reached Monday.

Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, one of five city officials named in the suit, declined comment because of the pending litigation. He said in 2010 that his promotion decisions are not guided by racial bias, and he also has said he wants to dispel the image that the city "is a soft touch" for disgruntled employees by litigating their suits.

Graham's suit alleges discrimination against him began in 1998, when he reported "racial comments" heard by another officer in connection with the police shooting of Tyisha Miller, an incident that sparked racial tensions and led to state oversight of the Police Department through a consent decree.

Despite excellent job performance and high scores on promotional tests, Graham has been passed over since 2001, sometimes in favor of white colleagues with less experience, the suit claims.

The department "has a long history of retaliating against officers who they dislike by opening up bogus internal affairs investigations" to prevent them from being promoted or getting special assignments, according to the lawsuit.

Four other officers in the past few years have filed claims or lawsuits alleging officials used internal affairs investigations to retaliate against them, and two officers claimed in a suit that their union activities made them targets. The city settled three of those suits last year.

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